Remote Learning Update: Understanding this new approach to school from the student’s perspective

The reaction when the call first connected was wonderful – like old friends meeting again after a long absence (even though it’s unbelievably only a week since we had a lesson at school). We cannot underestimate the importance of communicating with our students – even if it is just to say ‘hello’.

I had a fantastic video call with one of my Y10s this morning, student A (to protect their identity). The call was made through Google Hangouts, part of a new upgrade we’ve just had to G Suite across Hope Learning Trust.

Within seconds of the call being live, I was reminded of the two things we absolutely have to get right for learning to be effective; communication and relationship. Without these, there is no chance of developing trust between teacher and student and limited opportunity for collaborative learning.

During the time of being away from our students, it’s very easy to just assume how they are thinking or feeling and very easy for us to be wrong. We need to communicate. We set up the class video meeting this morning just to chat, to see familiar faces and to talk about our experiences of how it’s going. It cannot be underestimated of just how much is lost from not being there to talk face-to-face.

In York we’re blessed with fibre broadband and I have a 45-50Mbps connection. I suspect student A had a similar connection as the quality of audio and video was like we were sitting opposite each other in the same room. It was very easy to communicate. Others in the call found it difficult though, due to lower broadband speeds and this has to be considered, particularly when ensuring disadvantaged students have equality in what we do.

I read a really interesting article by Marc Rowland this week, helping us to think about disadvantaged students and, although student A isn’t in that group, the article led me to ask specific questions to check how the work being set by me and my colleagues was working in practice for them.

I first asked about the amount of work being set. Was it too much, too little or about right. Student A said it was “pretty overwhelming with how much there is to do”. There was definitely a perception that everything we post has to be completed. I wonder if we compared the workload we normally expect of students in our lessons with what we’re setting at the moment, how would it compare? On first reflection, I’m certainly guilty of over-setting at the moment.

A natural feeling of wanting to provide the very best opportunity for students, instantly, makes me want to share every opportunity I can find with them. I have to remember that, no matter how much they enjoy my subject, there is a bigger-picture need for them to continue to progress in all subjects. I am hugely bothered about their overall development so I have to get this balance right. My students also need space to think, reflect, create and develop so I must not bombard them with too many new ideas at once. Ultimately I want them to become more independent in their studies, providing accessible starting points, and sufficiently open ended opportunities, while also creating signposts to allow them to see progress. I want them to be independent, but for them to have the facility to ask for help when it’s needed.

I asked student A what they thought of the new content. They were very happy with the quality of content, especially with the YouTube Live lesson. Remembering again what I learned from the recent BBC experiment, about using the technology to extend learning possibilities in a timely and purposefully focused way, we must have the same approach to our new remote curriculum.

Student A also talked about how they were feeling. They’d been unwell with sickness the previous evening, but was much better this morning. They talked about feeling ‘not great’ (hot and stuffy) about the place where they sit to work. The place itself was ok – it was comfortable and they have everything they need, but it’s just being in that same place all the time that’s really hard. Student A is going out for a run once a day to make use of their opportunity for regular exercise. They are proud of improving their time to complete the circuit each day. They are also playing a bit of football in the garden to get some air.

The reaction when the call first connected was wonderful – like old friends meeting again after a long absence (even though it’s unbelievably only a week since we had a lesson at school). We cannot underestimate the importance of communicating with our students – even if it is just to say ‘hello’.

Going forwards, I’m going to set less work per year group and really focus on what I’ll ask students to be able to complete confidently in an hour’s lesson. My YouTube Live lessons at 1220 on Mondays will continue to be practical, but won’t particularly be linked to GCSE coursework to make them accessible to all ages and abilities. The YouTube lessons will be shared as an extra curricular opportunity and broadcast at lunchtime so as not to clash with other timetabled lessons. I will just stick to the 1 live lesson a week.

KS4 Music lessons will be simplified, featuring a single ‘Tune of the Week Kahoot’ as the starter for every lesson, rather than the current 3 Kahoots on different topics. There will be one larger project for students to develop over a few weeks with enough flexibility for students to work with their choice of approach. KS4 students can continue to email me at the instant they have a question and all 66 GCSE Music students in Years 9 and 10 can access and post to an open online Showbie chat to engage in collaborative community discussion for 7 hours every week (optional and at times fitting their schedule).

I haven’t attempted opportunities to play or sing together yet over hangouts. That’s for the future.

KS3 Music lessons will be even more simple. Beginning with a student-paced Kahoot, then a video clip to watch during which I’ll model a task on a given topic. Then time for the students to prove their understanding confidently, uploading their work. I’ll continue to have their class Showbie discussion open for posting comments during their hour lesson as that’s very popular.

For KS3 students wanting to develop more musical understanding, a 2nd lunchtime club, probably on Thursdays, is a place to share some of the other great work I’m receiving from other music teachers across the country.

It is more simple, but I’m absolutely determined that my students are actively encouraged to be creating music throughout this period.

So to simplify the simplifying:

Y7/8 Lessons

  1. Student-paced Kahoot!
  2. Watch Mr Lowe demo video
  3. Have a go and post your work on Showbie
  4. Showbie Class Discussion open during lesson time

Y9/10 Lessons

  1. Student-paced Tune of the Week Kahoot!
  2. Continue with single focused project
  3. Post work to Showbie for feedback or help
  4. Showbie Class Discussions combined for 66 students, open 7hrs per week
  5. Email questions 24/7 when students think of them

Music Extra Curricular

Mondays 1220 – YouTube Live Composing for Everybody

Thursdays 1220 – KS3 The ‘We Want More Music’ Club

Special thanks to Marc Rowland for making me think and to Mrs Lowman for sharing the article. I particularly think this structure for every remote lesson will be very effective for all students.

I’ll continue to reflect and keep you all posted of how things are going.

Cover Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

Author: davelowemusiceducation

Dave Lowe MA PGDip PGCE(M) BSc(Hons) MISM - Currently Director of Learning: Performing Arts & Head of Music at Manor CE Academy, York - Specialist in Music Education using Technology - Author of "How to Write Great Music" (Lulu Publishing, 2015) - National examiner and moderator for GCSE Music Composition

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