Transcript of School of the Air – teaching remotely

Jessica Townsing – Okay. I'm just chatting with Bree Staker. She is the School of the Air (SOTA) teacher out in Broken Hill and an expert on teaching children out of home. We're just going to give some advice to preschool teachers across the state.

So Bree, how do SOTA teachers stay connected to their children without seeing them face to face?

Bree Staker

We connect with our children and our families in a number of ways. The first thing, video recordings, using Screencast-O-Matic, this is where we provide feedback to the children and what they've done for the week, phone calls and by going live on our closed SOTA preschool page, Facebook page. By using the live Facebook option, we are able to read to our children and create small group learning opportunities where the children can ask and answer questions just like if they were face to face.

Jessica Townsing – Okay. I'm here with Jan Schorn. She's also a SOTA teacher at Broken Hill and we're just going to continue with the same questions. So how do you build and maintain relationships with children and families, Jan?

Jan Schorn – Well, as Bree said, we use Facebook, Screencast-O-Matic and recordings to the kids, Edmodo and a lot of platforms like that, and then maybe the families we use, we are continually emailing each other if they've got questions, if we want to send them something and occasional phone calls as well.

Jessica Townsing – Fantastic. Thanks Jan. Okay, I'm back with Bree and we just had a few more questions. We'd really love to hear about some of the strengths that the model of School of the Air offers. Can you elaborate?

Bree Staker – Yes, I can. So first of all, one of the biggest strengths is that each of the children get one-on-one learning in some cases they've got siblings and maybe a little more, but the ratio is really good. The other strength is that we get a lot of family engagement in the children's learning, and the most important part is that the children get to spend more quality time with their families and be more involved in activities around the house such as playing board games, helping out with the chores to get some life skills and playing lots of other games with their families.

Jess Townsing – Okay, Jan, let's continue with this. How do SOTA teachers gather feedback and assessment from families to extend children's individual learning?

Jan Schorn – Well, first to start with what we do is we send out our booklets, which is like a preschool class's weekly program, and in that booklet, we have learning intentions and suggestions for the feedback from the supervisor. So that would be like, how did your child react when challenged, could they use scissors, that sort of feedback, and then the supervisor will document all that for the activities and also send photos of or videos of the children. So once we get that feedback, we go through it and then if we feel they need an individual challenge, for example, the supervisor may have said they can't use scissors or they're crying and walking away from the blocks when they fall down. We then send an individual, we call them challenges and that can either be by email or a recording or sometimes we even send, like they may not be good at taking turns, so we will send a game out for the family to play games and we give them on a document of challenges to do.

We also do class challenges for individual learning, so recently we had a classroom and we'd seen the children, so through observations and OT screening we found out the kids weren't good at scissors. So on our Facebook page we then, one week we sent a scissor challenge, the next week we sent, they had to dress themselves because they weren't good at buttons, so each week we give them a challenge. So that's how we try and do the individual learning by individual challenges, but the booklets for the week are more the same.

Jessica Townsing – That's really interesting. Jan, thank you. To extend on that, how do you assess children using this feedback that you gather?

Jan Schorn – So we record on a document that Bree and I have made, and it reflects all the EYLF outcomes. So we get the feedback sheet back from the supervisor. We allow them to design that in any way they like, for some it's on PowerPoint, some it’s on Word because we don't know their computer skills. Then what we do is we open up their document and our document and if they're good at wording, sometimes we only have to cut and paste over to what outcome it was.

So for example, it might have been, the child can use scissors easily, so we would then put that into the document under fine motor and we'd put term one, week five, Tom could use scissors. But if it's a long paragraph and long-winded, we will summarise that and type it in ourselves, not copy and paste. So yeah, that's how we do it, and then later, the document that we've made up that we're cutting and pasting into becomes our learning statement for the end of the year.

Jessica Townsing – Great, so that informs your reporting on the child's progress through the year?

Jan Schorn – Yes, so you don't have to double up and rewrite a whole program. You're actually putting pictures and the outcomes they're meeting into that document straight away.

Jessica Townsing – Great, so it’s an excellent bank of evidence that you have by the end of the year.

Jan Schorn

Yes. We also keep our records so every child has an individual folder, and in that, whenever we get a feedback, a photo, a report, anything to do with that child, we keep it in there.

Jessica Townsing – Excellent. So a digital folder?

Jan Schorn – Yeah, so just a digital folder, which can be, we keep them on Google drive at the moment because they end up quite big because you've got videos and photos, but yeah, that can be kept on whatever the school chooses to keep it on. So every child has a photo of everything they've sent in.

Jessica Townsing – Fantastic. Okay, I'm back with Bree. Bree, what do you do if families don't send you any feedback?

Bree Staker – Okay, so this actually does occur. We've had this happen. So what we've done in the past is that we ring families or we'll email them, we'll just check in with them to make sure that everything's okay and if they do need support, we'll provide them with support in a method that suits them. So, for instance, if they have several children and it is difficult for them to be sending in large amounts of feedback, we'll offer them advice, so perhaps just sending some quick videos or even just some photos.

Jessica Townsing – Fantastic. Thanks Bree.

Jan Schorn – And don't let them have to think about it because we've got to remember they're not the teachers. So we take that away from them. So this is what we want you to answer after this activity, and if you're very specific, they seem to do it and it's easier for them.

Jessica Townsing – Great. Thanks Jan.

Bree Staker – And I guess also just trying not to overwhelm the families with too much information as well, it's a good way to support them.

Jan Schorn – We also do say 'don't repeat things' because in our booklets, even though it's a different activity, we still may be concentrating on fine motor. So, if they miss something and they're away or they just didn't do that activity because it was all too hard, we tell them, do not catch up, just keep going on because those outcomes will be met in another booklet or another week.

So, we try to take the pressure off them, no catch-up, and every week will be different because every home is different. So you've got to just take that off of them. One week you might get four photos in the next week you might get a novel. So we just go with the flow and don't put pressure on them.

Jessica Townsing – Okay, just to close off our discussions, Jan and Bree are going to give us some advice on how to work with 40 children across the week with remote learning.

Jan Schorn – The best advice we can do is what we've done. You have to decide what order you put things into, which is most important. So you have videos that you need to return from the children, you have feedback that needs to be given and recorded and you have programming to do. So each school or each group will make up their own order of what's most important. But firstly, sit down as a group and decide what comes first, second, and third and then what we have found work, we divide the class and I know some other centres do have focus children for the day.

We actually don't hone in on a child, but we will say we will do a reflection of two children a day. So you might have to do whatever, and then what you do then is you divide the roles so you're not doubling up. So you might give each teacher five kids to do or a week or divide the roles what you're doing. Someone might be programming, someone might be doing the feedback, feedback and videos go together.

Divide the teacher's roles so you're not all burning out and then the biggest thing for distance learning is time management. We usually have a timeline, an achievable timeline, which is important because don't make yourself think you're going to actually get stuff back to 40 kids in a week, you're not. I can guarantee you. So get an achievable timeline and when you want to have, so every child by four weeks has had some contact maybe, or something for that example. Make sure your timelines are achievable, and that's mainly what we've done that has helped not doubling up and helped make it a little bit better.

Jessica Townsing – Great. Thanks. Jan, And Bree, do you want to add any advice to that?

Bree Staker – Yeah, another piece of advice that I would have is just keep calm, don't freak out because at the end of the day, you're all professional educators and you know what you're doing. It's just about delivering it in a different way.

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