This is native content supported by the British School of Bucharest.
No one can deny that the whole world has changed since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has impacted the lives of everyone. That has not held us back as humans, teachers, children or parents and in many respects, we have seen the challenges of online learning as a way to develop ourselves and others professionally and personally.
How did schools manage online learning, and balance the workload of their students and teachers with the needs of the community of parents?
Back in April, the British School of Bucharest (BSB), with the support of its teaching staff, decided to postpone part of the upcoming summer school holidays and keep the school operational in order for the students to cover as much of the curriculum as possible.
“Planning a genuinely successful online face to face lesson takes as long as delivering one, if not longer, especially if it is to be appropriately differentiated with suitable outcomes for all the students. We have taken a blended approach to online learning delivery and with this approach, the autonomy of our students will inevitably grow,” said Philip Walters, Headmaster of the British School of Bucharest.
The entire activity of BSB was transferred to an online system in mid-March. Online assemblies, tutor sessions, individual counselling, group podcasts, face-to-face lessons for classes and individuals, learning videos including screencasts by teachers and larger group broadcasts on a dedicated YouTube channel and even orchestral recordings online: a lot of work has gone into adapting ‘in-person classes’ and bringing the human spirit of these classes to the online environment, whilst adding subtle ways to monitor, support, assess and continue to enthuse the children.
The teachers at BSB, all of whom are native English speakers, are now sharing some of their tips & tricks used during this period.
“Techniques to engage and enthuse students include using the Google Suite/Classroom to its fullest extent to create shared documents that students complete either live during the lesson and submit or work on independently. It is important that we keep alive the already strong teacher-student relationship whether we are online or not’ says Jason Porter, Head of Secondary School at BSB.
Many teachers create videos to explain new material or use online games and quizzes to consolidate and make learning fun, while students make recordings of their work and share with others.
The time spent with teachers who explain the material, keep alive the valued relationships, and talk through the learning, was key to the success of the programme.
Victoria Smith, Head of Primary School, recommends small group sizes, live lessons, and rotating groups around planned activities, directed by teachers and teaching assistants, as well as lessons built around children’s interests, with regular wellbeing lessons throughout the week. Several short burst activities appropriate to attention spans at each developmental stage, as well as lots of movement and physical activity, are also included.
“Online and offline activities are balanced, with regular breaks in screen time. The offline activities are designed for children to be able to complete with minimal adult support. A steady program of academic and creative House competitions is also present, with all tasks and assignments centralized in one location (Google Classroom/Suite),” says the Head of Primary School at BSB.
At BSB, children are grouped into four Houses: Arges, Olt, Mures and Danube, and in any competition, from academic to sport challenges, children gain points for their House.
Scott Allsop, Head of Faculty and Teacher of Humanities at BSB, was more advanced in his preparations for the online environment than most teachers globally: with over 700 episodes of his daily ‘On this Day’ History Pod, which he started in 2015.
“A lot of work has been done to listen to and respond to feedback from parents, teachers, students, and discovering best practice from learning hubs and networks. This has enabled teachers to feel bold enough to try new techniques to engage and enthuse students,” added Jason Porter, Head of Secondary School at BSB.
Although the start to the online learning day can be more gradual rather than the usual sudden whirlwind, followed by a period of calm as children are handed over to their teachers at school, there is still the challenge of blending household chores with getting the children set up and ready on their devices.
Working parents also need to be sure that the online work is engaging enough at key points in the day to ensure that children who may not be natural ‘self-starters’ can be drawn into the lesson content and become ‘self-finishers’ as well.
Then, there is the balance between children asking the teacher if they don’t understand something in the lesson and the temptation to turn and ask Mummy or Daddy, who may themselves be working online from home. “The audience is suddenly wider, siblings or parents appear in the background during an online lesson either listening in or engaged in their own work,” Jason Porter went on.
Teachers have met and counselled parents individually to offer support during this time. To provide further support, the school also created a section on its website dedicated to practical advice for dealing with the pandemic and the isolation.
When asked what they appreciated about the Academic Online Learning Programme at BSB, parents said they have enjoyed the live meets with teachers and being able to spend even more time with the teachers. They felt the structure was a good alternative for this period, and provided a daily learning schedule, with enough time to prepare for the next lesson and stay mobile and active throughout the day. They saw their children progressing and sharing activities, and appreciated the high level of interaction. “It was a good alternative for the current situation,” said one of the surveyed parents.
BSB has created a closed Facebook group for all its staff, more than 200 people, to offer the same team feeling as if they were meeting physically in school.
For final year students, who receive their qualifications in line with the UK methods, in the final month, lessons will focus on pre-university courses aimed at bridging the gap between school and university, academically but also for other preparatory skills from wellbeing to career guidance.
For enrolments in the next school year, BSB is organizing virtual meetings for those who could not come and visit the campus and we are planning a Virtual Open Day event, with a virtual tour of the campus, and dedicated sessions for EYFS, Primary and Secondary School.
“Of the many lessons that have been learned, perhaps the one most clear in my head is that as teachers - we miss our students. We miss the daily interactions and friendships. We miss the normal routine. We appreciate the enormous value of the broad range of activities that we organise together with our students. This is of course the case in reverse for the children. Online learning can never replicate the values of school attendance, however, I am proud of what has been achieved thus far in the BSB online learning programme. The learning curve for us and the students has been significant and will not stop; but we have continued’, concluded Philip Walters, the BSB Headmaster.
This is native content supported by the British School of Bucharest.