Family & Education

The lockdown lessons we’ve taken to heart

Teachers will be taking forward some of the new ideas they have gathered during remote learning, says Rimon head Sarah Simmons


In the run-up to Purim this month, Sarah Simmons, headteacher of Rimon Primary School in Golders Green, and her staff were out delivering mishloach manot, traditional parcels of food, to their pupils under lockdown at home.

Mitzvah apart, it was an opportunity to tell them, “We are looking forward to seeing you,” she said. “We want the children at home to know that they are valued and cared for.”

On Monday, schools in England started welcoming back pupils in the first easing of lockdown restrictions. Some children may feel ready at once to get back into the groove, others may need a little more time to adjust after the loss of close to another term of learning in a physical classroom.

But Rimon staff were well prepared for the return. Over the past term, they have done their best to minimise the distinction between home learners and those still taught on site: up to 30 per cent of the school’s body have been coming in as the children of key workers or else considered vulnerable.

Children at home have been receiving live lessons on Zoom delivered by teachers at the same time as those in school and are able to join in classroom discussions. “That enables connections to still take place between the staff and the children, and the children themselves,” said Mrs Simmons, who formally became head last September.

A diet of computerised learning can be hard for primary children especially. But she believes that children have knuckled down because “we have kept them engaged, we haven’t just kept them on screen. It doesn’t work where you are giving them just work that they have got to do. 
But because the teacher is facilitating their learning exactly as they would do in a classroom setting, that’s why I think it works.

“I’m not saying there isn’t tiredness from Zoom. My staff have been amazing in the level of energy they have given to this. I think it was definitely the best possible model that I felt the children all deserved.”

As well as Zoom sessions given by staff for small groups of home learners, she has conducted a dozen or so 20- to 25-minute one-to-ones with children each week “possibly on accelerating their writing or working with them on maths issues — some are for wellbeing support for children learning at home”. It’s helped to give her an overview of gaps in knowledge resulting from a year of disruption.

For the first fortnight back, everything will need to be “on pen and paper”, she said. Staff will be assessing where children will need to catch up, using methods such as a “brain dump” when children might be given little more than a blank sheet of paper and asked to write what they know on a particular topic, whether the Tudors or climate change.

But what she is also keen to do is “to use what we have learned from the lockdown and move the learning forward for the future, taking the education that we offer at Rimon, which is already of very high quality, to the next level”.

One practical initiative will be teachers producing video tutorials. So if a child is doing a new topic in maths, for instance, “the teacher can do a video tutorial of it and it can be posted on Google classroom. Then if it’s set for homework... they can look at the video, pause it when they need to do and then also go back over it.”

But it is not only teachers who will be doing the filming. She wants to encourage pupils who have got to grips with a particular topic also to create video tutorials to help other children to learn.“Because there is a lot of research out there to say that peer-on-peer learning is extremely effective.” And while the teacher should always be the guide to learning, “when they hear another child’s voice explaining it to them, it often becomes a lot clearer”.

She also wants to expand on the computer skills that pupils have developed. It’s been amazing to watch how they have been able “upload and save work and look at feedback” through Google Classroom, she said. “We’ve really upskilled these children.”

As well as giving them digitally-based projects, “I am also talking to other schools, not Jewish schools but inner London schools about how we can collaborate with them online for discussions and really give the children more of a kind of a global outlook.”

But while teachers may have found some positive spin-offs coming out of their contingency plans, all will echo her hope that “we never have to go into lockdown again”.

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