January 2021 BLOG
‘My journey on itslearning’
In hindsight, the lockdown in March made me realise that although I had been using itslearning for the past 6 months, I was still a complete rookie and had no idea how to use the online format to its full potential.
Certainly, one of the first thoughts that went through my head was,
‘I need to upload some work for these students, and fast!’.
I was so worried that these students would be without education, that I almost uploaded as many resources as I could possibly find to the itslearning site for students to access.
‘Phew, I’m glad that’s over!’
I had a lot to learn. Uploading whole schemes of work for students to complete, with no deadlines was just confusing. Not only for the students, but for me too. What work were the students supposed to be doing? How could I keep track of their learning? I wasn’t sure, but what I was sure of was the constant messages I’d received from worried students asking me why I’d uploaded 100s+ of resources. For me, this highlighted the need for change. It was a mess.
Once the ball was rolling on the remote learning, we started to receive more guidance. It was clear from the outset that this was a steep learning curve; a new challenge for us all. We needed to make the remote learning as accessible as possible. So in response to the initial guidance, these were a few things that we started to implement:
- Lessons to be no longer than 30 minutes.
- Setting all lessons as tasks/assignments to ensure students could submit the work and receive feedback.
- Setting it on the day of their lesson so students could follow their timetable.
This was a whole new way of teaching. Not only was there the need to plan and find appropriate resources but on top of that we need to chase up students who were not completing their work. In class, you could walk around and prompt the students to be more focussed or help them get back on track. But this was completely different.
Once the summer was over, and schools were allowed to fully reopen a thought passed through my mind…
‘No more online learning!’
At least what I thought by that was, no more online learning in the same format like it was during the first lockdown. Online learning wasn’t so bad when the students were accessing it, but the truth was that a lot of students weren’t. On top of this, if we were going to have students out, or more partial lockdowns, how would I be able to cope with setting shorter lessons for absent students, chasing those who were not submitting work, creating a recovery curriculum for present students as well as effectively managing behaviour in the classroom?
Then in came the itslearning plans. Something which (contrary to my first thoughts) has transformed my practice and minimalised my workload. As I am not only learning a new subject (Sociology) but supporting the planning and resourcing of a new curriculum for RS too, it was imperative that I used the plans to my advantage.
As a department we decided to use the itslearning planner to help us plan our lessons, given that we had no previous SoW this meant a fresh start. We assigned ourselves schemes of work, wrote and resourced them straight onto the master courses and then each class teacher would copy over what they needed as and when. Having the master itslearning plans meant that we could constantly adapt, which definitely helped with workload. Thanks to Pam and Taylah for always having the lessons there, ready to go!
Teamwork makes the dream work, and as a department we have come a long way from our first plans. I knew something I needed to work on was making the plans more accessible for the students. This was so important for my workload because the last thing I wanted to be doing was answering extra questions from students and parents about their work, and setting extra work for students in SIU. So here are a few things as a department that we started to do to combat this:
- All of the keywords for that lesson need to be bold and in purple.
- Lesson activities broken down slide by slide, with the slide numbers in bold.
- Embed all videos and links to the plan.
- Tree link all resources to the plan.
- Build the homework into the plans and set as self-marking tests to ensure maximum participation.
- Set all CFU tasks as assignments, with treelinks from the activities column to the assignment for easy submission for those at home. This also needs to be outlined on the PowerPoint slide as a ‘CFU Feedback Task’ too.
- Anything that needed adapting for those self-isolating, would be written in red italics for students to easily notice.
Something else that I needed to work on was my organisation – especially with six split classes. What class was I teaching? Where were they up to? Am I teaching that class today, or is somebody else? What resources do I need? Who is self-isolating? What I needed was a daily ritual when I was in College and here it is:
- Open my diary to see what classes are being taught that day.
- Go through the course pages, and using the review notes, activate the correct lessons and resources for that day.
- Get the resources ready for all the classes being taught that day (e.g printing worksheets etc).
- At the start of every lesson when the register is being taken, write down who is X on the register. Then while students in class are doing the DO NOW task, activate the assignment for self-isolating students to submit their work to.
- At the end of every class, while students are packing away, write the review notes so I, or another teacher, knows what to do next lesson.
This is not a perfect by any means, and I am still constantly evolving and refining what I am doing. Most recently when I had to self-isolate, I uploaded marked assessment papers to an itslearning assignment so students could do their red pen feedback in class. And now that we are in another lockdown, the importance of being reflective in my practice with itslearning is key. Something I wanted to trial before lockdown is using the plans to get the lesson up at the start of the class, for students to become more familiar with how the itslearning plans work (thanks for the tip History dept!). However, now we are not in class I needed to experiment with this more, especially now the students are using the plans every day. Although we can’t be in the classroom to show the students the plans at the start of the lesson, I can build it into my instruction and walk-through looms and embed these at the top of the plans for students to see (thanks for the idea Taylah!).
However, now that we are in another lockdown, I needed to update my daily ritual to fit in with my day-to-day life of remote teaching. Here is the updated, lockdown 3.0 version:
- Add announcements to the course pages of the classes I’m teaching that day. Just a general greeting, letting them know what topic the work is on for that day and letting the students know to message me if they have any problems. While I’m on the course page I just have another look at the plan to make sure all my resources, the teacher walkthrough video and the assignments are active.
- Chase up any work from the day before. I do this by going through the assignments from P1-6, checking off their work on the assignment and while I’m still on the assignment logging it on classcharts. I then ‘toggle all’ to give house points to the rest of the class who have handed in the work on time, and any exceptional pieces of work I give commos to. Then, while I’m still on the page, I will individually message the students who haven’t yet submitted, to see if they need any help, or have just forgotten to upload their work.
- Then I will go through the rest of the submitted work that has either come through late, or work submitted for that day and mark it/check it off – trying to make my morning easier the following day. This will fit around any planning and live lessons/tutor sessions I may have.
- On Mondays, I have also started to add a WOW alert to my announcements. This showcases a piece of work that was excellent in that particular class from the last week, with reasons why it was so good. These models to the students the quality of work I am looking for, but also shares their ideas.
This is a really tough time for us all as we are consistently having to think on our feet and adapt without a moment’s notice. But I think the most important thing I’ve learnt is to continue to be reflective in my practice, embrace this change as a positive, and make it work for both myself and the students.