“Private schools have taught too many live online lessons during lockdown and are turning some pupils into “Zoom zombies”, an expert has claimed. Professor Lue said that asking children to attend live web lessons all day “was not effective and results in immense Zoom-learning fatigue”. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/online-lessons-create-classes-of-coronavirus-zoombies-jbvzkxgl6 . Just today, schools have been criticised for providing too few online lessons throughout the period of remote learning: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/1-in-8-primary-school-pupils-did-real-time-online-lessons-in-lockdown-cgbgstjh3.
Our aim from the outset of remote teaching and learning was not simply to engage in remote teaching, but to provide a remote Dixie education in the fullest sense possible. Whilst the approach needed for Junior and Senior pupils was different, our guiding policy was to try and provide as much variety as possible – a mixture of closed and open ended tasks, collaborative and individual work, online interaction and individual written tasks. A mix of screen time, activities outside and time with families, with a focus on the well-being of all at the centre of our provision – pupils, parents and staff, recognising that the circumstances for all parties varied widely.
Some parents expressly asked for, and some local schools provided, days of supervised real time remote study for their children. In our opinion, as reflected in the above article, we were clear from the outset that a day of online real time lessons would not have been healthy for students – looking at any screen all day is to be avoided, not least one the size of most phones. That said, we were also clear that a day with no online engagement would make motivation an even greater challenge for Dixie pupils
There was no Dixie ‘Zoom Doom’ and we avoided creating Dixie ‘Zoombies’: from lawns mown in the shape of dinosaurs, working blast furnaces handed in for marking, sunflower competitions, solar system models, sports challenges, new languages learned (including British Sign Language), BLM student-led assemblies, computer club challenges, Tie of the Day, engineering challenges to live performances of sea shanties, the students’ learning has been as eclectic in lockdown as it would have been in school.
During lockdown we all focussed on relationships – those we miss, why they are important and how to maintain them without physical presence. In school we discuss relationships a great deal of the time – how to be a good friend, when to tell an adult if you are worried about yourself or someone else, how you should be treated by friends, family and when the time comes, partners. Education IS the preparation of young people for adult life – academically and pastorally. As so much of our adult life is about the relationships we establish it follows that a vital part of education is exploring relationships with young people; giving them an opportunity to decide what kind of relationships they want in their lives. Such topics are difficult to share online and it is fair to say that students have missed out on some valuable time exploring these topics; a matter we fully intend to address during next academic year.
Throughout remote learning there was also an emphasis on the pastoral; from delivery of home learning packs for our youngest pupils, form time, assemblies, to individual meetings and ‘thought for the day’ – many of which were proposed by students. As part of our final week activities of non-curriculum learning we asked students to engage in a relationships challenge – to complete at least one of these challenges focussed on valuing relationships:
- Paint a stone with a positive relationship quote and leave it in their local community on their daily walk. Share pictures of their efforts on social media.
- Create short videos on what makes a healthy friendship for use in supporting the induction of year 7s in the new academic year.
- Create a title, a synopsis and a cover design for a new book about relationships and love.
Students were also given opportunities to engage in traditionally fierce House competition (York vs Lancaster) by taking part in the following: Sporting challenges as part of our Virtual Sports Day, a Photo competition, a Writing competition, an Arts Trail, a Chemistry challenge, a Biology challenge, a Live Music Festival, a House Quiz, with the final competition broadcast at the end of the week.
Our bespoke newly designed programmes of study for Year 11 and the Upper Sixth highlighted the innovation of teachers and adaptability of students. Both courses have ensured that these students, initially feared to be in danger of missing out the most, have actually gained enormously, and are now well prepared for the next stage of their academic careers.
Expectations of students and their subsequent achievement was no lower whilst remote teaching and the engagement of the whole school community in the final week of term activities was fantastic. Staff showed great flexibility and ingenuity in making the final week programme available, parents supported us in our aims and students participated and engaged in huge numbers – real evidence of the strength of our community and the Dixie Difference!