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Online learning and virtual classrooms: a teacher’s story

ACG Tauranga is open for learning – and our seamless transition to a digital environment has been reaping considerable benefits. Our students have easily adapted to this new style of school day and are enjoying online learning as their studies proceed at pace. Meanwhile, our parents are confident that their child’s education continues uninterrupted. However, this success would not have been possible without the preparation, commitment, and ongoing efforts of ACG’s dedicated teaching staff.
Tatyanas Class

Specialist Year 5 teacher, and Dean of Years 1-9, Tatyana Duffin, has been instrumental in creating online learning platforms for our Primary and Preschool students, and was ready to move to digital lessons immediately after school closures were announced.

“Monitoring developments within the education sector abroad, we collectively took steps to ensure we would be ready to deliver online learning for our students should the need arise,” she explains. “As a member of Inspired Education Group, we were able to take guidance from their global network of schools and consider the best options for our students within our environment. Working with my Year 5 class, I was able to trial and implement strategies beforehand to make certain they met the needs of both our staff and our students.

“We completed an entire week of online learning in the classroom, with me present to guide students, answer questions, and give feedback. I spoke with the students and families to determine what worked well and what they found challenging.

“Sharing these findings with other Primary teachers, the school then pre-emptively introduced online learning in all our classrooms. This meant students had a chance to navigate the digital platforms while teachers were physically there to help them. I also assisted the Preschool in creating an online learning programme, after adjusting our approach to better suit younger children. When closures became a reality, our students were already familiar with virtual lessons, so the transition to online learning was straightforward, and actually exciting, for the students.”

Tatyana believes that upholding the quality of every lesson delivered and maintaining high levels of interaction with students are the most important aspects of online learning for ACG.

“We need to be teaching our students, not simply allocating ‘busy work’. That means we prioritise creating activities that are engaging while continuing to work through the usual Cambridge curriculum units of study in each year level. Students receive coursework and instruction across all subjects, as they would if they were at school.

“We want students to be able to complete the online learning programmes as independently as possible, especially with the older Primary students, so that parents do not feel they are required to take on the role of the teacher.

“Additionally, prioritising the ‘live’ availability of teachers throughout the whole school day is essential as it allows students to submit activities for marking, ask questions and request further support as they complete tasks, much like putting their hands up in class. Students love the immediate feedback they receive, and most classes see 100% attendance.”

Daily meetings with classmates ensure students connect with their peers, and these ’virtual mat-times’ have instantly become their favourite time of the day.

“Our students really love bringing a little of their ‘bubble’ environment into their online learning. Families really appreciated this time too, and we can often see parents enjoying listening in to our mat-time discussions. For Term 2, we have extended these face-to-face sessions to small group teaching sessions focusing on reading and Maths.”

Recognising the importance of screen-free time, tasks designed for pupils to enjoy practical learning with their families are also provided each day.

“Students have been creative in the kitchen and garden for Science, Spanish, Art and Humanities. They have been physical in Dance, Drama and PE. They take photos or record themselves completing these activities and then upload them to share with their teachers and class.

“There have been incredible ongoing community challenges too, which encourage the entire family to get creative together: developing their own plays, fitness videos, ball tracks and forts/huts. Over the holidays, families requested more of these, so Primary students were allocated one optional challenge each day such as camouflage art, backyard bivouacs, fantastic paper flyers and more.”

As with all new experiences there are inherent challenges and rewards, and for Tatyana, the most difficult aspect of this new school life is missing her students. However, the resilience, excitement, and creativity of her pupils always continues to inspire.

“We all miss our students – that’s the biggest challenge. Those relationships we build with the children are the reason that we teach, and we really appreciate the support of our students’ families as they negotiate these unusual times.

“The high point is the level of student engagement. Every day they turn up, they ask questions, they submit activities, they wait excitedly for teacher feedback and they continue to amaze me with their creativity and individuality. I feel lucky to teach in an environment where students continue to be so enthusiastic to learn, even in a completely new situation like we have at the moment.”