Home learning, a challenge for the whole school community
It has been now more than a month that all schools in Poland, like the French School in Warsaw, had to suddenly close down due to the COVID-19 sanitary crisis. The whole school community had not only to ensure pedagogical continuity as a number one priority, but also to learn and adopt new tools and work methods, reviewing as well the traditional communication channels and the organization of their private and professional lives.
The Head Office and a Teacher of Spanish from the French School in Warsaw (Lycée français de Varsovie) give to parents some precious advice for supervising their children’s school work at home in the best conditions…
What kind of challenges the French School in Warsaw had to face with the announcement of the schools closure caused by the COVID-19 pandemia?
The Head Office : With the announcement of the closure of all schools in Poland, the biggest challenge for us was to implement simple and effective communication procedures between our teams (our offices and teaching staff) and our students and their parents, but also internally between our teams themselves. The most important thing for us was to make sure that nobody would feel isolated, neither our students, nor our staff. It was necessary to recreate some link and to maintain contact in this new context. From a pedagogical point of view, another main challenge was to switch to teaching online. We had first to find some new teaching tools that could meet the needs and possibilities of everyone, then learn really quickly how to use them, and finally adapt our teaching methods, goals and choice of skills to work on… It was a great challenge mainly for our families, which are in fact in very diverse situations when it comes to IT equipment or linguistic environment. Our teams strived to answer families’ needs as best as they could in order to adjust their teaching. Families are highly requested and the team teacher-parents never had such an important meaning as now. Parents indeed play a key part in this new scheme.
Which tools did your school implement for reinforcing communication with parents and students?
The Head Office : Communication between our administration, students and parents was already mainly organized online through e-mails and dedicated applications like PRONOTE for the secondary school. New tools have been progressively introduced for reinforcing the efficiency of online teaching such as videoconferences, video and audio materials, or padlets… which can be more suited for some teaching subjects. Individual phone meetings can also be organized in order to help younger children in need in primary school. Our school has also opened two Facebook groups for pupils’parents in primary and secondary schools with the aim to provide children with cultural, scientific and linguistic initiatives organized online as well as extracurricular sports and artistic activities.
Do you think you will keep using some of those new pedagogical and communication tools when the school will reopen?
Head Office: Of course, online communication will remain the key. Also, all the new pedagogical and teaching engineering which has been displayed by our teaching staff in those specific times will bring up new practices in the long term. We will resort even more often to online resources and multimedia materials in classrooms as an addition to more traditional teaching practices. However, the massive use of these new tools proved us that the special ties the teacher builds with its pupils in the classroom are difficult to recreate online, and everyone misses it. Online tools cannot reproduce entirely the atmosphere of our traditional classrooms, which is much more favourable for learning. Both our students and teachers cannot wait to come back to school.
How do you live online teaching and how do your students react to this particular situation?
Mr. Lapassade (teacher): I spend around 7 hours per day on my computer and I have regular exchange with my students all day long via Gmail Chat (video meeting and messaging). I am not satisfied with the “online formula”, but we do not have the choice. My opinion is that pedagogical continuity is not “Home learning”. We are all in a situation which is new and different for all of us, and we need to be flexible and understanding. Many students were completely lost at the beginning, but it seems now that a new “daily routine” is progressively coming into place (especially for students in high school). I strive for my part to bring some variety in the lessons I offer to my students, and I even allow us to have some time for “breathing”, in others words: organizing other activities like dancing in spanish, songs, relaxation, artistic projects, etc.
What kind of advice would you give to parents who struggle to cope with family life, work at home, and supervision of their children’s school work?
Mr. Lapassade : All families are unfortunately not equal in this new scheme. The organization of home learning depends on : the number of children at home, their level of education; their degree of autonomy; the availability of adults, their equipment at home (computer, tablets, printers, scanner, smartphones) and on the quality of their internet connection; not mentioning the space available at home for work and relaxation: bedrooms, desk, living room (for younger children the space sometimes even needs to be adapted for motor skills, artistic or crafting activities..)
I could give however 4 pieces of advice to all families:
- Try to wake up your children at the same hour every morning if possible ! Also, it is better if they do not go to sleep too late. They are not on holidays.
- Children can get bored and the temptation to stay behind a screen is high: try to limit time behind screens as much as possible (games, passive watching) and favour more dynamic materials like movies or cartoons, in French or in another language (I for example gave a list of movies and TV serials to my students who have access to Netflix).
- Propose them to play, to craft, to help you cook, practice together some physical or sports activities… Children also need informal activities without any pedagogical goal in order to strengthen their social ties and interaction skills.
- Take the time to talk with your children, to reassure, encourage them and show them some appreciation. It is also not easy for them!
Which errors could be avoided for better supervising children’s school work at home?
Mr. Lapassade : Children need to be in an environment favourable for concentration and focus. It is important to organize for them a dedicated space that will serve as the “virtual classroom” (and not the sofa or the kitchen table for example). If parents received some recommendations about the duration of the activities, they have to take them into account as much as possible. Not all children will manage to do all the school work they were asked to do, and it is better to be lenient and flexible. If the child has some problem with online learning, parents should not keep silent about it, as it can become a source of additional stress for the child., and should contact directly the teacher. It is also important to plan some family activities, board games… Children’s social life is now limited to online contacts with other pupils and teachers, and it is crucial to maintain the precious human contact within the family environment, and if possible extend it to friends (even online).