Rowena Public School

This snapshot was originally published 14 July 2020.

Three primary school students smiling at camera
Image: Rowena Public School

School context

Rowena Public School is a small primary school located approximately 1.5 hours west of Moree in far north NSW. It serves a local agricultural community that has been affected significantly by the recent drought. The school has a FOEI1 of 40, and it currently has 28 students across two composite classes: Kindergarten to Year 2, and Year 4 to Year 6. Rowena Public School has established itself as an integral part of the local community, always welcoming parent and community involvement in the many activities the school provides.

Learning from home journey

Getting ready for disruptions to face‑to‑face teaching
  • Consulted with the community (surveys, phone calls).
  • Held whole-school meeting with all 16 families in attendance.
  • Held ‘Learning at home’ day for students.
Learning from home
  • 95% of students learnt from home from 23 March 2020.
  • School remained open for students who needed to attend.
  • Teachers attended school on a rotating roster with at least two staff members at school each day.
Transition back to face‑to‑face teaching
  • The majority of students returned to school one day per week between 11-22 May 2020; students who required continued remediation and additional learning support attended school two to three days per week during this period.
  • Teachers continued to attend school under a roster system between 11-22 May 2020.
  • All students and teachers returned to face-to-face teaching full time from 25 May 2020.

Challenges to overcome

Student equity: Access to computers and mobile devices is not consistent across the student population.

Unreliable internet: Internet access across the community is ‘sketchy’ at best and sometimes there are days of no internet access at all.

Irregular school hours: The region had recently had its best rainfall in five years, which meant many students were working on farms during traditional school hours to take advantage of the upcoming growing season.

What has worked to maintain learning continuity

Taking early action to prepare for disruptions to face‑to‑face teaching

Rowena Public School started planning for all possible contingencies relating to COVID-19, including school closures, well before the NSW Premier encouraged parents to keep their children at home to contain the spread of the virus. The school consulted with all families so they would be ready to make a smooth transition to learning from home if required. Consultation included:

  • parent surveys: to review technology access and gather information about the needs of students and their families
  • phone calls from the principal: to discuss the individual needs of every student
  • whole-school meeting: to present, discuss and answer questions about the school’s draft learning-from-home plan.

In addition to consulting with families, the school also put considerable time and effort into ensuring that the students themselves were ready to make a successful transition to learning from home. For example, teachers spent a full day at school explicitly preparing students for the changes ahead. This day involved establishing clear rules and expectations for learning from home, teaching students how to log in to online learning platforms on different devices, explaining how the weekly learning schedule would work, and giving students ideas about how to manage and organise their time. As part of their preparation, the school also identified students who did not have access to a computer at home and loaned them a school device.

Providing students and their families with flexible learning options

Rowena Public School recognised early in the preparation phase that a one-size-fits-all approach to learning from home would not be effective and that they would need to take into consideration the lifestyle needs of students and their families, as well as the unreliable nature of internet access in the area.

Recent drought-breaking rain in the community meant it was likely that many students would be working on family farms during traditional school hours and that their parents and carers would have limited time to assist with schoolwork. The school responded to this challenge by developing a personalised weekly learning schedule for each student. The schedule was included in a hard copy learning pack that also contained an outline of the activities to be completed and the resources required to do so. Students also received links to video-recorded lessons in which classroom teachers used explicit teaching practices to explain, model and scaffold learning. This approach allowed students to do their schoolwork as time allowed, and the inclusion of hard copy materials reduced the need to access the internet. All work was to be completed by Friday morning, when parents returned it to school or teachers collected it from students’ letterboxes. Students were encouraged to contact their teachers for support whenever needed.

Giving students meaningful feedback and support in a timely manner

Providing all students with effective feedback and support that was timely, specific and forward focused was an important component of Rowena Public School’s learning-from-home approach. The school constantly refined its practices and experienced success with a variety of methods, including: Photographs and text messages: Students could send photos of their work to the school mobile phone. Teachers reviewed the work and provided prompt feedback.

  • Weekly FaceTime calls: All students had a one-on-one video call with their classroom teacher each week where they received individualised support and specific feedback about their progress. The call was scheduled at a time that suited each student and their family.
  • Teacher time: ‘Teacher time’ at Rowena Public School was a set time each day when teachers made themselves available for additional one-on-one sessions with students via telephone or video. Students booked a time with their teacher to ask questions and get the immediate feedback they needed to complete their schoolwork successfully.
  • Check-in days at school: Students could attend school for two-hour blocks to receive in-person support and feedback from their teacher.
  • Feedback sheets: Students received a detailed feedback sheet each week that was photographed and sent by teachers via text message. The hard copy feedback sheet was stapled to the following week’s learning schedule for students to review.

Appendix

Photo of a woman collecting learning packs from a mailbox in rural Australia.
Image: Dropping off and collecting learning packs
Screen capture of a text message exchange between a child and a teacher. Two of the messages are photos, one of the child holding up a piece of paper and one of the teacher holding up a similar piece of paper.
Image: Instant teacher feedback
“The reality is many of our kids are helping out on farms so we recognise that it’s not a normal 9-3 day for them. Some kids are getting up at 4am, doing schoolwork until 9am and then going out to plant.”
Paul Cecil, Principal
Screen capture of a five day weekly learning schedule for Year 5, listing activities for each day.
Image: Sample personalised weekly learning schedule – Year 5

1 Family Occupation and Education Index – a school-level index of educational disadvantage with a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 50. Higher values indicate greater levels of need.

CESE would like to thank the Principal, Paul Cecil, for his valuable input to this snapshot.

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