Schools in Singapore have adapted to remote learning quickly, given the speed at which the pandemic took over our lives. While every country has handled the situation differently, it’s clear that one thing remains constant – the importance of education. In our exclusive interview with Tanglin Trust Schoolhg0088手机版登录’s Director of Learning, John Ridley shares how the school was able to adapt quickly, as well as thoughts from Tanglin educators throughout the school.
How has Tanglin Trust responded to school closures due to Coronavirus?
Tanglin was one of the first international schools in Singaporehg0088手机版登录 to shift to remote learning on 19 March. At the time we were concerned about the number of residents returning from abroad in our community and the rise of imported cases in Singapore. Consequently, to help keep our community safe, we shifted to remote learning for seven days prior to the Term 2 break. We had hoped to resume classes on campus on 13 April following this break, but by then the government had instituted remote learning for all international schools.
The campus was closed for 2 months, but the school remained very much open. The switch to remote learning was challenging for teachers, parents and students but we all came together to make the best of the situation. Overall, we were very pleased with the level of engagement from the students and the learning that continued to take place.
What were the biggest challenges faced with distance learning? How did Tanglin Trust adapt to these new challenges?
hg0088手机版登录While the challenges have been individual to each family situation, they have been felt across the board. Perhaps the biggest challenges were faced by families with young children and both parents working from home. To help families manage so many competing demands on their time, we built flexibility into our home learning timetables, especially for the younger children, and ensured there were a variety of tasks that required different levels of parental guidance.
“If I wasn’t sure whether a remote learning task will be clear enough for the children to access independently at home, I’d ask my son who is in the same year group to read it through, to check he understands what he needs to do.” Rebecca Whelan, Head of Year 2 (6-7 years).
Remote learning cannot replicate the stimulating interaction, physical resources and specialist equipment that bring the curriculum to life in our classroom environment. However, the Remote Learning programmes developed at Tanglin provide as many opportunities as possible for collaboration with peers, timely feedback and encouragement from teachers, and for children to question and try out ideas in front of a group. To do this, we made full use of available technology and, most importantly, we leveraged the strong student-teacher relationships and home-school partnerships that had been established over time in our normal operation.
Live teaching and class collaboration
Video conferencing platforms add value by enabling more natural question and answer sessions in ‘real-time’, to maintain the strong connection between students and teachers and the sense of belonging to a class group. However, they also have a few disadvantages over other elements of the virtual classroom. Too many live lessons scheduled in a day can be problematic for families with multiple children and parents working from home. Video conferencing with whole class groups can also become impersonal – it is much harder for teachers to keep track of students’ expressions and reactions online and ensure that all are engaged.
At Tanglin, our use of video conferences took into account these drawbacks. Sessions were short with a specific purpose, to complement other aspects of remote learning. In the Infant and Junior Schoolshg0088手机版登录, the majority of sessions were with small groups, so that each student is recognised and contributes. A typical session was 15 to 20 mins long, with a specific learning focus; very much like ‘carpet time’ in the physical classroom where children gather around the teacher to share ideas and discuss the learning. In the Junior School, each class also had a whole-class ‘check-in’ with the teacher at the end of the day which again mirrors practice in a normal school day and helps to maintain the class identity.
hg0088手机版登录In the Senior School, a Microsoft Teams group was set up for each subject class, making it very easy for teachers to schedule live meetings during their lesson times as required. Again, these are typically short, targeted sessions within the lesson; introducing a new idea or following up on common misunderstandings from earlier work. The chat function within Teams is used for teacher-class communication at other times.
Blended learning phase (2 June – 29 June)
hg0088手机版登录“Although a challenge to plan, the rotation between school-based learning and remote learning, with half classes for Infants and Juniors, presented opportunities to keep progress on track. In-class teaching was concentrated on the core areas suited to direct instruction. For the alternate Remote Learning days, the activities followed on directly to strengthen learning, giving continuity and enabling children to work independently at home. Teachers focused on progress when children are in school and gave support where needed – the lower teacher/child ratio allowed this extra attention.” Paula Craigie, Head of Infant School & Clair Harrington-Wilcox, Head of Junior School.
What positive outcomes did distance learning have on teachers & students, if any?
hg0088手机版登录There was a great sense of the community coming together in order to deal with the challenges – and I think it will make us all even more appreciative of the precious face-to-face time that we normally experience. However, we did see some advantages in the remote learning environment – it encourages students to be more independent; and for older students, fewer distractions and a self-paced approach were often beneficial – especially when using software that gave them instant feedback. Nevertheless, we prefer to have the students in school, with all the social and collaboration benefits of being together.
hg0088手机版登录“One of the main benefits has been that parents now know exactly what their children are learning. At the end of a normal school day, children don’t tend to give much feedback – they are tired, they don’t want to rehash the day. Parents were able to see what their children are doing in ‘live time’ and are understanding more about their child’s learning style. Feedback from parents is fundamental in supporting a child’s development and we are finding that home-school communication is stronger now than ever. A strengthened parent-teacher partnership can be a real springboard for a child.” Rebecca Whelan, Head of Year 2 (6-7 years).
“Dialogue between home, school and our Personalised Learning Team has been crucial in helping children to access remote learning as successfully as possible. Overall, we have been very impressed with the way that students have engaged with the remote provision. We have seen real progress both in their work and their ability to work independently.” Lucie Scott, Head of Precision Teaching, Junior School.
What safety measures did you put in place to guarantee a safe return for students?
Tanglin’s community worked together on the logistics of the return to ensure that the new environment was not only safe but also welcoming. Back to school videos were released prior to the reopening, to familiarise children with the enhanced safety arrangements (temperature sticker and mask protocols, thermal imaging and temperature check stations, hand sanitiser locations, single-file routes and social-distancing measures) which were tailored for each year group so they saw familiar faces. Headteachers, teachers and TLAs welcomed children and directed them through the campus. One parent of a Reception child was relieved to report, “She loved it – the teachers have made it so fun for them despite all these new things.”
How has Tanglin Trust implemented blended learning strategies?
According to mandates from the MOH and Committee for Private Education (CPE) for Phase 1 of the return to school, only 50% of staff and students were allowed on campus on any given day. The CPE allowed each school to determine the appropriate split.
At Tanglin, we achieved this split in a different way from most other schools. Our approach was developed to support the learning and pastoral needs of different age groups. We divided our Infant and Junior classes in half and rotated between School-Based Learning (SBL) and Remote Learning (RL) on alternate days. In our Senior school, we split our students by year group and rotated between SBL and RL on a weekly basis. As Phase 2 started on 29 June, Tanglin was able to welcome all students back on campus for the final week of Term 3, which was a fitting and poignant end to our academic year.
hg0088手机版登录“The school was very clever in how they structured it. Activities were well explained to the children at school for the home learning days, and then they returned it to be marked on the onsite days. This made it cohesive, gave the children ownership and took the pressure off parents.” Katy Rodgers, parent of Year 1 and Year 3 children.
hg0088手机版登录“For the blended learning phase, we incorporated more in-class movement sessions and tailored the pastoral elements to address the changed environment. There was a reduction in screen use, particularly in school but also for the Remote Learning provision, to compensate for increased use during the exclusively remote period of learning.” Paula Craigie, Head of Infant School.
Do you think it’s necessary for schools in Singapore to continue to use blended learning methods post-Coronavirus?
hg0088手机版登录This experience has highlighted the need to be more flexible in our approaches so that we are better prepared to switch between remote and face-to-face teaching when necessary. We also recognise the potential benefit of more self-paced, independent learning as part of our normal provision.
Video conferencing had not been used widely before the Covid-19 crisis and we are now using these tools, where appropriate, in the socially-distanced setting for virtual classroom tours and ‘meet the teacher’ to help with transitions. In the new school year, we will also be using ‘live’ tools for new students or returning students who are unable to join us immediately on campus. A balance between online and offline activities is key, whatever the setting.
“Microsoft Teams is an excellent collaboration tool for staff and students in the Senior School. Even if things return to ‘the way they were’, Teams is becoming our preferred platform for lesson tasks and homework settings. This will eventually replace our current tool (EDMODO). OneNote remains a strong feature of our teaching and learning strategies.” Allan Forbes, Head of Senior School.
John Ridley is Director of Learning at Tanglin Trust Schoolhg0088手机版登录 and is a member of the whole school Leadership and Management Teams. In his current role, he is responsible for ensuring that Tanglin’s curriculum remains relevant and appropriately challenging across the full age range of the school, and that there is planned progression in the curriculum as students move through the different phases. In recent years this has meant a significant focus on the provision and use of mobile technologies across the school – as well as consequential developments in Information Literacy in the curriculum and in physical learning spaces.
John started his teaching career as a secondary school teacher of Physics. He has taught in 5 different schools, in the UK, Bermuda and Singapore. Before moving into the Director of Learning role at Tanglin, John was Head of Science in the Senior School and later Assistant Headteacher, with responsibility for Curriculum and Assessment.
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