As primary schools close the teachers have had to rapidly move to provide online educational resources to support parents in teaching their children. Here I report on my experiences of supporting my 9 year old child Francesca, who is in year 5, and what happened when her teaching went online.
We live in Manchester in the UK and it has been two weeks since we heard that Francesca and her sisters were not going to be able to go into school anymore. The main platform that Francesca’s teachers are using to communicate with us during the crisis is called Class Dojo. This is accessible through a website and an app, and was already being used as a way of communicating with parents. It was the means by which we learnt that Year 5 was going to have to stay at home due to lack of teachers, and then, two days later, that the whole school would be shut. Alerts come in several times a day to say teachers have posted news and provided new things for children to do at home.
On DAY 1 of the closure Francesca’s teacher posted on Class Dojo a list of activities for us to do in the form of attachments that we could download from the message, and pointed us to a list of passwords that had already been sent home in Francesca’s school bag. The passwords were for several online sites – Purple Mash, My Maths, Spelling Shed and Times Tables Rockstars. Over the next few days we were pointed in the direction of more resources – a website called Pobble with reading comprehensions posted each day based on a quirky photography; a site called Twinkl that had made all its resources open to parents for the duration of the crisis; a site called White Rose Maths with age-specific videos and exercises and various twitter and youtube channels with sport, singing, stories and drawing activities.
Being confronted by all these different sites was pretty overwhelming and going onto them was confusing. Francesca was aware of the sites and apps for which she had passwords -having using them at school- but it took a while to realise that the other sites were mainly educational companies set up to create resource repositories for teachers. Gradually we began to realise that homework exercises that Francesca had done in the past had come from these repositories of materials, recognising the logos from the bottom of printed materials that had been sent home in the past. In fact what soon became clear was not that we were being given access to new platforms or resources for online learning, but that the doors had been opened for us, onto the digital education that was already forming a large part of the way that teaching materials were being stored, distributed and used in the school already.
The problem however was that our access to these resources was being given without the overarching pedagogical framework of a curriculum or a trajectory of learning. This is not to blame the teachers for not instructing us properly to but to reflect on what it feels like when online learning resources are taken out of context and made ‘freely’ available. It is all very well having a mass of resources but much harder to know how to use them. There is only so much self-directed learning that a nine year old can do and for us as parents, going onto these sites was generally confusing and disorienting. Rather than providing a way of navigating and structuring this new and endless expanse of home-time that had been opened up by the virus it just felt like it was filling it with random content.
Each evening Francesca’s father and I are now trying to work out how to use these resources as a starting point for a set of activities for the following day. In the process I feel like I am being asked to become a proto-teacher, but without the overarching structures of schooling system within which teaching takes place. As I open up these sites, I find myself stumbling my way through brightly coloured repositories of worksheets, learning packs, pre-packaged powerpoint presentations, fact files and youtube videos, trying to make sense of a cascade of exercises and activities and filtering them so that my daughter has some semblance of order the next day. Filling the void created by the virus with materials from educational resources designed for teachers and as apps designed as supplements to homework is hard work and is making me, along with other parents, wonder: what are we really supposed to make of this content given most parents are not trained as teachers, nor are we able to use them in the context of a consistent daily, weekly or even monthly timetable of activities?