Remote learning success: one school's story

Thursday, 03 September, 2020

Remote learning success: one school's story

The professional development focus for staff at Mansfield Secondary College in Victoria in recent years was to align teaching and learning for the school's 450 students with world's best practice.

In keeping with that goal, the leadership team decided to implement the Google Classroom suite of applications for every class, along with a range of co-curricular programs. Uptake was initially confined to a handful of staff but burgeoned thanks to promotion and growing familiarity with the platform. Students were regularly called upon to support teachers.

Wider use of collaborative planning, curriculum documentation, improved formative assessment practices and a progressive assessment structure enabled staff to readily adapt their pedagogy and students' learning to suit a remote learning model.

Less than half of the staff were familiar with Google Classroom in the early stages, so upskilling was required. Questions and advice flooded the newly created online Staff Classroom as teachers endeavoured to set up virtual classrooms, load documents, invite students to participate and run online meetings. Once familiar with the platform, staff increasingly looked to augment their online teaching.

Collaboration became a daily feature as the switch to remote learning accelerated the level at which teachers shared resources and ideas.

While students responded to the remote learning environment in different ways, most adjusted quickly to using online tools for downloading tasks, uploading completed work and participating in virtual classes. In general, junior, VCE and VCAL students readily adapted to interacting with their teachers and peers during online classes.

Many students found the reduced distraction from peers in and out of class allowed them to develop good study habits and discover new ways of learning. Teaching staff were delighted by the number of students who blossomed while learning from home.

In Years 9 and 10, teachers found that they had to devise new strategies to encourage students to talk online in front of their peers, a process likened to getting blood from a stone by one teacher. Patience, long pauses, forewarning and allowing students to use the chat function helped to overcome this issue.

Many senior students shared their enjoyment of being able to organise their time at home to concentrate for longer periods on specific subjects. They felt up to date with their coursework and some asked for additional learning activities. Others, however, missed the structure of the school day and found it hard to be self-motivated without their teacher's physical presence.

Virtual classrooms are here to stay

Teachers have developed a range of new and innovative ways to assist students with their learning across a range of academic and practical subjects including:

  • Using Google Meets for online classes and small group tutorials such as:
    • collaborative investigative projects in maths
    • outdoor education 'camp out' nights in students' own backyards
    • facilitating 'online incursions' with expert guests for media.
  • Developing senior maths class videos to pre-teach concepts.
  • Adapting the 'jigsaw' strategy by using a shared Google Doc to enable students to collaborate in content-heavy VCE classes.
  • Completing science projects at home and creating entertaining video clips to share.
  • Students designing self-paced fitness programs or creating short videos to demonstrate basic game skills for Physical Education.
  • Shifting the focus in drama classes from 'performance' to 'creativity'.
  • Wellbeing applications during remote learning have included:
    • student surveys
    • competitions.

Overall, the movement to remote and flexible learning has been an exciting and successful development at Mansfield Secondary, with virtual classrooms looking set to stay in the future. 

Image credit: ©

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