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5 key strategies to make remote learning fun and engaging for younger learners

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We asked a principal of a primary school to share her tips for effectively delivering remote learning for younger learners. We also spoke to a parent and student who told us what they liked and disliked about learning in the midst of a pandemic.

Taneeta Lala is the principal of SPARK Randpark Ridge, a primary school in the SPARK Schools network. SPARK Randpark Ridge switched to remote learning in March, when South Africa went into a lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We hadn’t started on itslearning yet when we went into lockdown. Our schools had been gradually introducing itslearning to our scholars, and we had just started with the older grades.

“So, trying to make itslearning user friendly for the younger students – including students from Grade R (pre-primary, 5 years old) – was something we had to look into very quickly. We had to accommodate universally how to target our younger scholars and at their ages.”

Taneeta Lala, principal, SPARK Randpark Ridge

Taneeta Lala is the principal at SPARK Randpark Ridge.

The challenge

“Our Grade R scholars (5 years old) are just starting to learn to read. So, they need quite a lot of parental guidance – to understand tasks, assignments. This is why we recommend that teachers make videos and create other content that is attractive to younger children.

“They don’t react so well to words, but they will respond to pictures and videos, and especially the teachers face. They build their learning style around trust, and so having a person they trust appear on the platform, and seeing that same person daily creates a consistency for them in the platform.

Putting the plan to work

“I first looked at how does a scholar that age and how does a parent (as parents will have to help the younger students) view the platform. Also keeping in mind that we as a school have specific targets areas that we want them to reach. These were for specific subject areas such as literacy, mathematics and, our third one, which is isiZulu (language).

“But first I had to get the teachers on board with online learning. I created training manuals explaining to the staff how to utilize itslearning, how to upload resources, and then of course, it was about navigating the platform and understanding the different functions.

Younger learners build their learning style around trust … and respond well to pictures and videos.”

Taneeta Lala, Principal, SPARK Randpark Ridge

Inclusive, easy to follow routines

“All our resources are maintained in folders divided by terms in the Resources tab. The main thing is to create a Page. The way I was trained was with a vision of when you walk into a shopping mall – do you walk in with something in mind that you intend to buy or just go in to browse? So, when a parent or scholar is logging on to the platform they are going in with a purpose because they want to find specific content for that day. Make it easy for them to access the content.

“I had my teachers lay out content in a specific way, as well. This means, the way it appears for Grade R will be the same as for other grades in the school.

“We’ve got the different days – each page reflects a week – and the expectation is that there will be a live video or our teachers would record a video. This information will be in the timetable and at the end of that day they would upload content to istlearning because very often the scholars that we intend to reach – their parents may not have data, access or they might not be available at that time, so this allows them to access the recording here. It’s the same for every day – so it is easy for them to find and follow.

“80% of our students have started returning to school, 20% are still learning from home. And of this 20%, a lot of them don’t have access to computers, or the Internet – so we have to think of ways to make learning accessible for them, and paper packs is what SPARK Schools has decided to use.”

Involve the parents

“One of the key things when using Assignments is to give detailed instructions so parents can help their younger children at home.

“Once we had trained the teachers and they were building content, the next thing was to have training sessions for parents. I walked them through the platform and showed them how to navigate around the platform, where to find the resources, how to upload the resources, how to use the parent portal, receive feedback from teachers, how to send questions to teachers. We use Announcements to share information, so I showed them where that was and how it was connected to the Courses.”

Taneeta Lala’s 5 Key Strategies

  1. Train the teacher so they are familiar and comfortable using the platform.
  2. Make it child friendly with colors, pictures and videos so they can see and hear their teachers.
  3. Have easy to follow routines that create familiarity to engage the student.
  4. Involve the parents as younger students need more guidance at home.
  5. Ongoing itslearning training to fill any knowledge gaps.

“I also made a simplified training manual for parents with diagrams and took them step by step – that helped them, but, of course, we want more of the parent cohort to be engaged. I also put up ‘rules’ – that they need to engage in the correct way, for instance, when to use or comment on announcements, and when to send a direct message to a teacher. So, if a student could not access a resource folder, then they shouldn’t be asking how to get access in a reply comment to a teacher’s announcement because it might be missed. In those instances, it would be better for them to send the teacher a direct message. Replying to an announcement should be more for content related questions.

“The next step is to get parents and students to use itslearning to its full potential.”

Engaged teachers, engaged students

“We have teachers who are extremely creative, and they found different ways to engage with their students remotely. They use colors, add jokes to liven up the lesson, and videos to connect with the students. Some teachers start every day with a video greeting. They have found different ways of incorporating what they need to ensure that students stay focused.

“The big benefit of using itslearning is that we can extract the data from student engagement and interaction, and use that to modify lesson delivery.

“We are also trying to make it easier for teachers from a time management perspective – parents are more used to getting emails, so we are trying to migrate them to the platform. Ongoing training helps and we encourage our students, who pick up things faster than adults, to go home and ‘train’ their parents. It can be an enjoyable parent-child bonding session for them.”

The perspective from a parent and a student

Octavia Selepe is a Risk Management Consultant, whose daughter Lesedi Selepe studies at SPARK Randpark Ridge. She and her daughter shared with us their experience of learning during Covid-19.

mother and daughter

Octavia and her daughter Lesedi. The Grade 5 student found remote learning fun and even set up a routine for herself.

What was the biggest change/challenge for you?
Octavia: “What changed most for me was my involvement in my child’s education. I was active before but now I became more hands-on. Another change was the routine of school, as well as planning of interactive events, that used to take place. All our plans for each term had to be shelved.”

Lesedi: “I really didn’t have any problems with itslearning, besides Internet connectivity and load shedding (power outages); it was lovely and really easy to use. I did, however, miss my friends and the interaction we had before lockdown.”

Octavia: “The months that followed were full of uncertainty, accompanied by conflicting reports about the pandemic, that it made it difficult to plan for the future. The first 21 days of lockdown was manageable but the extensions created more anxiety in our household.

“As a parent it was tough to comfort my children while I was dealing with my own fears. It was such a difficult decision to make between sending the children back to school and safeguarding their physical wellbeing. We didn’t know what school would be like from then onwards.

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