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First person: New tech, familiar relationships

05 Nov 2020

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Blended Learning is changing the way our students learn, but what does not change is the teachers’ role, says Mr Clement Tham from Meridian Primary School. “What makes learning effective will not stop. It simply continues in a different form.”

COVID-19 changed the way many of us think about teaching and learning. Although schools in Singapore have long experimented with ‘E-learning’, Full Home-Based Learning (HBL) in April accelerated our adoption of digital tools tremendously, for students and teachers alike.

We discovered that online learning is workable, and even beneficial – so much so that there are plans for HBL to continue as a regular part of school for older students next year. This is also known as Blended Learning, where online, self-directed learning complements regular classroom lessons to bring out the best in our students.

For parents who are concerned that this would short-change their children’s learning, I believe there is nothing to fear.

Engaged Learning

Just like lessons in the classroom, teachers design and customise the online learning experiences to suit the needs and interest of our students.

For example, I know that my students prefer demonstrations and listening to reading PowerPoint slides. That is why in preparing for the topic on Magnets during the alternate weeks of HBL in June, I recorded a series of short videos to explain how magnets work.
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It was also important to me that they do not just watch, but experience the experiment themselves. It took some effort, but I managed to find enough magnets such that every student could bring a set home and follow along as I demonstrated how opposite poles attract and like poles repel each other. Their favourite part? Trying to get the magnets to levitate!

Some students took the initiative to explore the topic further and tested various objects in their homes to see if they were magnetic. One boy discovered that his scissors could attract staples and shared his observation with others enthusiastically. The rest soon tried it out as well and we had a lively discussion on how ordinary objects can be magnetised. It appears that the home environment did not hinder, but instead nurtured their curiosity.

That said, engaging students’ online requires hard work. However, having seen all the lesson ideas and resources that my colleagues and teachers from other schools have shared, I know that our students are in good hands.

Supporting students

Online learning sounds impersonal and cold, but just as we do in school, teachers reach out to those who need help and check in on them regularly.

During Full HBL in April, my co-form teacher and I made a schedule to ensure that we have one-to-one Zoom chats with every student in class and to check if they were coping well at home. For those who needed help with their studies, I arranged for them to stay behind after our online ‘live’ lessons so that they could clarify their doubts in the small group setting.

We would also follow up with those who did not complete their work. When checking in with them, I made it a point to ask how they were coping emotionally and not just ask about their homework. It is important for students to know their teachers care about them and not their assignment. This is no different whether we are online or in school.

Partnering parents

Lastly, just as in regular school, parents and teachers have to work together for the children to succeed during HBL.

In my experience, most parents are eager to help their children. They may not be familiar with the syllabus or know the content well, but that is not a problem because we do not expect them to teach the material. We need their support to set routines so that the children can manage their studies.

During HBL, I had to set up online meetings with a few parents and explain what their child had missed. I pointed them to the resources available on the online learning platform and made sure that the child was also there so everyone was on the same page about what the child needed to do to catch up. Of course, I also try to give them good feedback when their child improves.

Some things do not change

At the end of the day, Blended Learning is not just about technology. As much as we teachers get excited about new digital tools and the opportunities that they create for our students to become more independent learners, we know that online learning is just one aspect of education.

I believe that how our students behave during HBL is also seen in their day-to-day actions in school. Those who are motivated will navigate HBL easily, while those who are still learning self-discipline will have the same problems with homework whether in school, or online. Regardless of the platform, we teachers will continue to guide them and support those who need help.

After all, technology may be new, but when it comes to our students, we are on familiar ground.