During this ‘break’ I took time to reflect on what is the best way forward for students and home learning. The week before initial closure, when a lot of us were still in denial about the level of threat Covid-19 posed, I thought that scanned textbook pages, uploaded to Teams, would be sufficient to get us through the ‘couple of weeks’ I was envisaging school would be closed. Four weeks later, with my naivety out the way and schools still closed with no clear timeline, I’ve thrown these ideas out the window. Yes, there is uncertainty, and I too have considered whether the time put into creating bespoke worksheets is ‘worth it’ if they will not be used next year. But we should be doing whatever we can to support our students at home, and a scanned copy of a textbook is simply not enough.
For the first three weeks of lessons I have made worksheets for students to work with alongside the textbook pages. Not only does this give them clear guidance, but it also reduces teacher workload as it is very easy to monitor completion. Rather than being sent 30 lined pieces of paper, all laid out differently, sometimes illegible; guided worksheets can provide scaffold to those who need it, and allow teachers to quickly scan documents to check tasks have been fulfilled. Some examples of Year 10 work can be seen here:
The textbook pages were still provided, but students fill out a structured worksheet using the information, rather than working through activity boxes (which I have found often refer back to different parts of the textbook anyway). We have also set Year 10 students exam questions to apply their knowledge each week. Questions and answer boxes are made on the sheet so students can easily write these straight into the document and submit via Teams. For longer answers, sentence starters and scaffolding are also provided as they would be if we were in a classroom. Below are some examples of these worksheets once completed:
Forgive me if this is condescending, but I have found the easiest programme to use to make worksheets is Power Point. Word can be a little clunky with it’s formatting, whereas Power Point has alignment tools, you can duplicate slides easily to make similar worksheets, and there are other functions that allow you to create resources much more efficiently. You can also include voice notes to give instructions and add clarity to the tasks you are asking students to complete:
I have also found inserting tables and enlarging these to the appropriate size works much better than inserting text boxes, as once students start typing in these it can result in the format being muddled:
The added bonus of worksheets is that you can also download students’ finished work. For example, in the case of exam questions I have taken work from a student with full marks. I have then added voice notes to each slide to give detailed feedback on each question, explaining why the answer got full marks. I then upload this to our class on Teams, making this available to the whole class. Moreover, if students are encouraged to keep their online files organised they will have some excellent notes for revision next year.
Feedback from parents has been positive so far, owing largely to the clarity of the online work which ultimately makes their job easier. One parent commented that PDF documents that students are unable to adapt are unhelpful. If a family has no access to a printer it makes it difficult for students to complete, which I think is important to point out and to remember when magpie-ing some of the wonderful resources Edutwitter is sharing.
Whilst I think worksheets can be a really useful tool for online learning there is a danger that we are regressing in terms of our pedagogy. A recent article by Steve Bambury highlights the importance of considering what tasks you are setting. It is vital we are not simply asking students to regurgitate the information they are provided into tables. We need to be translating tasks that we use in the classroom to our worksheets, and go beyond lifeless learning that students will not engage with meaningfully. An example of this is where students have used a continuum and have had to actively move a red X to their opinion for a task. In a classroom this might look like post-it notes on the board. This requires higher order thinking skills and gives an opportunity for students to reflect and evaluate.
A final point would be to model. It is something we do everyday in the classroom, so we should be doing the same with the resources we are setting. Even if it is just a simple example of how you are expecting them to complete a task, I assure you students will find this beneficial.
All of this is not without its flaws. As we are all acutely aware, there are many students without access to computers or the internet which makes the possibility of any sort of online learning extremely difficult. Our school has done an outstanding job at raising money with the friends of the school to provide students with laptops, with members of staff delivering them on push bikes! However there are still students that do not have adequate access, and there are of course other barriers. We are all still learning how to manage with the dramatic change in our normal life, and whilst this might not work for everyone, it is something small I have found to be effective for our students and setting.
I am more than happy to share resources with other geography teachers – find me on Twitter at @geoteachrach.