Right before Auckland went back into lockdown, we finished writing our report Learning from Lockdown, which presents key findings from the narrative reflections of teachers, parents and students from across New Zealand on their experiences of schooling under lockdown, collected by The Education Hub in May this year.
The overarching finding of the report was that there was substantial variation in how schools and individual teachers approached teaching and learning during the lockdown period, and that this variation was similarly matched by a wide range of experiences of these approaches by teachers, students and parents. However, common themes emerged from the data regarding the factors that appeared to contribute to more positive experiences. Below, we detail these factors, many of which map neatly onto what research tells us is important for effective teaching and learning more generally.
Much of the success of remote learning was reliant on the strength of relationships that existed – between teachers and students, between the school and parents, and between school leaders and teachers. Strong relationships generally were underpinned by a strong, coherent school culture that was embedded across all aspects of the school, its processes and systems and the ways in which the school engaged with all its stakeholders.
The frequency and consistency of communication between school and home played an important role in both students’ and parents’ experiences. Ensuring there areclear expectations and processes and channels for timely, consistent and responsive communication among all members of the school community was crucial. For some teachers, the lockdown period provided an opportunity to build or strengthen their relationships with whānau as it offered greater insight into students’ lives outside school and opened up new channels of communication.
Focusing on wellbeing – of both students and teachers – was essential. However, this needed to be balanced with a continued focus on academic learning.
Maintaining high expectations and holding students accountable for meeting these expectations was critical for maintaining students’ motivation and engagement and facilitating learning. Students (and their families) benefitted from knowing exactly what was expected of them, by when and why. Providing regular formative assessment and feedback that was connected to the expectations set by the teacher was also pivotal to ensuring ongoing learning.
Utilising a variety of tasks that were well-matched to the intended [clearly communicated] learning outcomes and moving beyond low-level tasks and “busy work” to engage students in meaningful learning, supported motivation and engagement. Relying too heavily on the same tasks – common examples included worksheets in primary school or Education Perfect at secondary school – decreased student motivation and engagement.
Students who established some form of routine or daily structure were more likely to stay up to date with work and to maintain their engagement. However, this needed to be balanced withflexibility around when and how students engaged. Furthermore, providing students with a degree of choice over how they completed a task typically led to greater engagement in the learning and a higher probability of the task being completed.
Self-regulation and self-management were identified as critical skills students needed to engage successfully in distance learning, enabling them to structure and manage their time, prioritise activities, select suitable strategies and overcome challenges. However, teachers, parents and students reported on substantial differences students’ ability to self-regulate and self-manage. There was general recognition from teachers that it was challenging to develop the systems and structures at a distance to support the development of self-regulation and self-management skills. Similarly, students commented on the absence of the school environment and the teacher as motivators during distance learning.
Drawing on the science of learning enabled teachers to design learning opportunities that had greater impact for their students. Features of this included the use of clear and precise instructions that explicitly set out what students were required to do; breaking tasks into chunks and scaffolding students through learning; providing students with opportunities to clarify their understanding and to ask questions; and the careful sequencing of tasks so that they built logically from one another, facilitating deeper levels of learning.
We know that many schools collected student, and often whānau, voice during and after lockdown. It’s important that schools analyse this voice and incorporate it into their own internal reviews of what worked and what didn’t seem to work so well during lockdown.
The full report will be released soon.