Teachers, students and parents from all over the world have had to adapt to a new way of teaching and learning. Many teachers have become reliant on digital technology to distribute work, keep in contact with their students and continue teaching remotely. Similarly, parents have taken on an even bigger role in their children’s education by supporting a new learning routine at home.
In this two-part blog, we speak to Richard Morgan and Beth Borrett about their experiences since the school closures. Richard is Head of Sixth Form at The Perse School in Cambridge, where he has taught for over a decade. Beth is a mother to three children who are all studying at different stages, including working towards GCSEs and A Levels.
Today’s interview questions have been influenced by insights from the Cambridge Panel, following recent activities and discussions around the impact of school closures, and focus on the changes to teaching and learning.
Since the school closures, what have bee the challenges of a new routine?
Richard: As might be expected, remote teaching has definitely changed things. It has been important to find ways of delivering the same content digitally. From using recorded presentations with voice-over, to hosting live conference Q&A sessions. However, there are also logistical challenges such as distributing work, internet connectivity and access to IT equipment (especially in large families). The students have been really good at giving constructive feedback on the learning they are experiencing during this time.
Beth: For my family, we have tried to keep as close to the school routine as possible. My children are at their desks for the required lessons. I feel that if we did not do this, the lockdown would be seen as a very long holiday, rather than a different mode of learning. However, my children miss the interaction of the classroom, the ability to ask questions and debate topics. Although the technology has made it exceptionally easy for them to access both their work and other resources.
How have your students/children responded to this new way of learning?
Beth: As a parent, it is hard to stay on top of everything that is going on and ensure that the children are actually doing their work. It is also a big ask to help them maintain motivation when they are sat at the same desk all day. It can also be hard to find that you can’t always offer help with some of the academic subjects.
Richard: Running discussion threads and enabling students to access feedback digitally has been a good way to encourage them to talk about what they are learning. I think that ensuring students can still feel engaged in every aspect of school life is a big challenge. They have really appreciated the instant feedback that we can offer online. It’s the same concept as circulating the classroom to see how they are getting on.
What have been the positives of this situation, particularly in home learning?
Beth: The children are really making the best of a new and challenging situation and still trying their best. I feel they are also learning to be more self-reliant and resilient. They have started to ask each other for help academically, which has led to stronger sibling relationships. They have been more open to talking about their lessons, which has meant we can have some good family conversations. My daughter has also had time to consider her university options independently, rather than being influenced by what her friends might say.
Richard: I think positives have come from the creativity many people have shown in preparing resources and the generosity of resource sharing from educators, exam boards, publishers and beyond. Seeing the creativity and willingness of everyone to pull together and make things work has been refreshing. I think it is encouraging everyone to look at what they are teaching and think about what key points they really want students to learn.
What do you think are the long-term changes that might emerge from this experience?
Richard: I think many educators and students will be more adventurous with their use of digital resources. The skills that many students will develop from this will help them in the future as they move into the working world (of that I have no doubt). I also think we have seen communities of educators come together and recognise the value of sharing and collaborating in a far wider context.
Beth: For me, it has shown me just how happy my children are at their school. They have all shown that, although as parents we worry about them constantly, they are stronger and more resilient than we give them credit for. They have the ability to be more independent in their studies. They can be very active in searching for information and answers themselves, rather than expecting to be given the answers. The biggest positive in many ways has been our family relationships. My three children are the closest they have been in a long time and they spend much time together now just talking.
In part two of our interview, we focus on the effect of remote learning on wellbeing. Richard and Beth offer their insights and advice on how to keep students motivated as they adapt to a new learning environment and routine.
Beth is mother to three children who are all studying at different stages. Between them they are working towards GCSEs, A Levels and Cambridge Pre-U courses and her eldest has just completed his first year at university in Paris. In her life before parenting, Beth’s career at British Airways enabled her to have opportunities to travel extensively.
Richard is Head of Sixth Form at The Perse School in Cambridge where he has taught for over a decade. In that time he has also been Head of Classics and a PGCE mentor for trainee teachers from the University of Cambridge. He has written articles on writing personal statements for university application and promoting digital literacy among early-career teachers. He also coaches within England Hockey’s elite Performance Centre pathway.