As the weeks progressed and we fell into an eLearning routine, the challenge was evident. Keeping children engaged and motivated in learning content was just as hard online as it was in the classroom.
Before leaving for the Chinese New Year holiday, the Grade 1 team had planned and were looking forward to another interactive unit. We were very excited and had the resources necessary to ensure the children would learn all the vocabulary through experience and hands-on learning the same way they would in the Huili classrooms. Our goal was to create a full circus experience – help our pupils become jugglers, magicians, stilt walkers, unicyclists and ring masters – and culminate this in a circus show in our schools’ Grand Theatre so our children could demonstrate the language, skills and values they had acquired in the process.
Little did we know, our school and community as a whole were about to face unprecedented circumstances and would be learning many valuable lessons in the coming months. For seven weeks, Grade 1 worked incredibly hard on their circus unit. As everything else in Huili, our unit was planned with the help and input of all teachers, taking into consideration the different learning objectives we wanted the children to achieve. While planning every unit, it was important to analyse the children’s previous learning and their progress. This would give us a starting point to ensure the content was embedded in their memories and the children could use it as a foundation for their new learning.
A dynamic, interactive, fun, cross-curricular unit full of language and action to create brain connections was the perfect way to begin our second semester.
I was in the UK when the news of school closure arrived and we were presented with the challenge of eLearning. Teachers, parents and children only had a few days to explore, discover, learn and put into practice this whole new phase of a learning process. No one knew exactly how effective it would be and how well the children were going to learn.
The first few days were all about adjustments: checking that connections worked, organising timetables, and educating our parents and teachers about the different platforms available to support our pupils. This process pushed everyone’s resilience to their limits. The patience of our parents and children, working with all of our school values, was brought to the forefront: this was the time to let our children shine.
As new as this experience was on all of us, the children’s response to the process was unbelievable. Their enthusiastic smiling faces in each of our TEAMS meetings became the highlight of my day. Despite a sometimes poor internet connection (and someone muting my microphone by accident), the children were still there, repeating words, mimicking gestures, writing out their sentences and generally ready to embrace this new challenge. Best of all, what kept me motivated through the weeks were our parents. You could always catch a glimpse of them in the corner pointing the children to the right screen or showing them the next word they needed to read while they were busy looking at their teacher on the screen. They pleasantly surprised us as they participated in their children’s homework videos, helping out with experiments and looking around the house for objects of different materials because ‘My teacher said I need to find this around the house.’ As a team, Grade 1 teachers met regularly and adapted our lessons to be as effective as possible under the circumstances. We changed resources and moved presentations around to maximise impact.
By the second week, we were finding our feet. The chaos had subsided a bit and we were all beginning to establish the roles and dynamics around this incredible experience. Needless to say, we were very worried about what the outcome of our unit was going to be. Would the children learn the necessary vocabulary? Would they continue to take part in – and, most importantly, enjoy – the lessons? Would they be able to practice their circus skills? There were too many questions, but day by day it was very evident we were not working alone.
We were receiving videos which showed evidence of the children practicing their circus skills; worksheets with vocabulary practiced and work completed; wonderful pictures of children looking for objects around the house to practice their knowledge of materials and comparatives at the same time. It was clear that the team included more than just the faculty. Parents were on board. They, too, were displaying our Huili values of respect, courage, and responsibility. It was this larger ‘team’—one bigger than the one with which we had started—that was making things work, which ensured the lessons continued to be hands-on and interactive just as they would have been in school.
We reached the end of our unit and after much discussion with the team, we decided that the circus show was going ahead as this was what the children had worked so hard for. Instead of our school’s Grand Theatre, the show took a different route. Parents helped the children with the last bit of practice and emailed videos of the children practicing the skills. I can now proudly say that yes, we have jugglers, magicians, stilt walkers, unicyclists and ringmasters in Grade 1. Our teaching assistants then put their editing skills to the test and produced a beautiful video show for each class. Then the time came for different classes to enjoy our show on different days, and of course on days when internet connections permitted us to do so (we had all become very flexible by this point).
Click above link to watch video
WOW! If there was ever a testament to integrity, this was it. The 20-minute show didn’t just demonstrate Grade 1’s wonderful tricks, but was a performance that showcased the hard work, perseverance and dedication of many people supporting each particular child. It showed an enormous team effort. This was a team that extended far beyond the academic and non-academic teams at the school and included parents, grandparents, and siblings all rooting for the same result. Our eLearning experience put us all to the test, but we triumphed.
We are now back in the classroom, with children at their tables joining in with the lessons full of enthusiasm. Never have I seen social interaction so appreciated; we all have a lot to say, children and adults alike. We are surely going to make the most of this opportunity to embed that vocabulary we have been working on remotely. The children are bursting with ideas and thoughts they want to share.
I want to give a big thank you to everyone involved in this experience, which was incredible in so many different ways. No matter how big or small your part, it could not have been done without you. This has been a steep learning curve for me personally and I believe unity and collaboration within and without the school is what made everything possible. Not just possible…amazing!