Lessons for all from home learning

The coronavirus has caused untold disruption to education, but for the community of St Francis Xavier’s Primary, Belmont, it has also strengthened the partnership between home and school.

Interestingly, some of the more reserved children “shone” during this time. Children normally reluctant to get up in front of a class embraced the activities that involved talking and presenting.

The staff noticed that the online learning platforms emphasise the benefits of a learner-centred classroom, where the focus is on the students, rather than the teacher. A combination of video lessons, online discussions and research, encouraged the children to step up to the challenge of completing tasks independently with enthusiasm and creativity.

St Francis Xavier’s principal Sonya Boslem says parents were eager to assist their children to ensure the continuity of learning.

“At times, home learning was a challenge for parents juggling work commitments with online tasks with their children,” Mrs Boslem said. “But we were so impressed with the high level of parent support, and the staff were appreciative that parents did their very best to maintain learning.”

Still, a school is just not the same without the children attending every day and Mrs Boslem and her staff are enjoying seeing all the smiling faces again. They are mindful however, that so much has happened in such a short time, they must continue to monitor student wellbeing over the months to come.

For St Francis Xavier’s, the transition to home learning was smooth. As a bring your own device (BYOD) school for Years 4-6, a majority of learning occurred online for those grades before COVID-19. The younger grades used a portfolio-style learning platform to capture tasks and activities. This platform was new to teachers as well as parents, but it was quickly adopted and used in conjunction with class learning packs.

“We found that providing familiar booklets and ‘hands-on tasks’ helped our younger students settle well into the home-learning routine,” Mrs Boslem said. “Over the weeks, students participated in a variety of home-learning tasks and they were encouraged to use equipment they could access easily, such as bottle tops or pegs for counting. Recycled craft items created masterpieces, and chairs, tables and blankets were used to construct shelters. It was excellent to see the parents getting involved in these tasks.”

The support from parents enabled students to complete activities. St Francis Xavier’s now has some excellent recordings of puppet shows, children greeting teachers in languages from around the world and reports from children on learning excursions organised by parents.

“We are very grateful for the partnerships that we have developed between home and school,” Mrs Boslem said. “There are so many benefits of a small school, where every family is known and there is a real sense of community spirit.”

Online learning was a big shift for all, and some students took a little longer to adapt to the change. However, in most cases, a simple phone call or Zoom with the teacher helped alleviate any stress or anxiety.

Missing the daily contact with classmates and friends has made the return to school even more exciting. The students were very keen to get back to the routine of school and see their friends and teachers again. All students are back at school and enjoying learning face-to-face.

“We are back to a new normal,” Mrs Boslem said. “The students are very aware of the need to wash hands and sanitise, be aware of personal space, and cover their mouths to cough or sneeze. It’s now part of our daily discussions and language used at school. Six months ago, who would have thought that we would be talking about social distancing at primary school?”

It wasn’t only the parents. St Francis Xavier’s teachers were very committed during the home-learning period. They created meaningful tasks that also addressed curriculum areas. They were also mindful of setting tasks that promoted a variety of online and written/hands-on activities.

“The staff at St Francis Xavier’s enjoyed connecting with students and families during the home-learning time,” Mrs Boslem said. “Using Zoom, we celebrated birthdays and special events such as the news of a new baby arrival. The staff also got to meet many pets and favourite stuffed animals that featured in a variety of learning tasks throughout the home-learning period.”

Staff collaborated professionally and learnt much from each other. And it was a steep learning curve.

“As educators, my staff acknowledge the recent home-learning time has been like nothing we have experienced before,” Mrs Boslem said. “We commend our parents and students on how well they adapted to a quick shift in learning to ensure school education remained accessible and achievable for all.”

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