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Encouraging student agency, responsibility and independence

As an IB pathway student-teacher studying at the University of Dundee, Georgia Fullarton completed a virtual practicum at the International School of Como. She reflects on the value of student agency, community and collaboration in online teaching, skills she hopes to continue in the classroom.

Encouraging student agency, responsibility and independence

To learn more about the impact that the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic is having on education, we connected with educators, student-teachers and schools. You can find more perspectives from this series here.

How has remote learning and conducting an online practicum challenged you?

Georgia Fullarton: Following the closure of many schools due to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) outbreak, my plans to complete a school-based placement came to a halt. Many schools then took their learning online, and I am very grateful to have experienced this first-hand, as a student teacher.

Over the past few months, I have had the absolute pleasure of learning alongside students and staff from the International School of Como. The bulk of instruction has taken place via Zoom, with materials and videos being posted to Padlets for those who cannot attend live sessions. For students who do not have access to the Internet, alternative arrangements could be made between the individual parents and the school. This ensured learning was accessible to all.

It has been interesting to observe the transition from school-based learning to remote learning during a time that, understandably, is uncertain, stressful and confusing for students and staff alike. Despite this, the majority of students have taken everything in their stride and have turned up to online lessons on time, with great enthusiasm, focus and eagerness to learn. The work produced has been of a high quality, and it is clear that students are continuing to work hard, out with the online sessions.

“Many challenges that I thought may arise from remote learning, in my experiences, haven’t”

I’m not trying to sugar-coat remote learning, nor suggest it in any way replicates the value of face-to-face learning and teaching. However, many challenges that I thought may arise from remote learning, in my experiences, haven’t. Interestingly, each, ‘challenge’―for want of a better word―I have come across or witnessed, was not unique to remote learning and could, and do in fact, happen in the classroom too.

On occasion, it has been tricky to engage individual students in lessons I’ve taught, and I have observed that it is often the same students who give answers, while others sit back in silence. To attempt to overcome this, I tried out different teaching styles and approaches, trying to understand what worked best for the group of students I was working with at that time; exactly the same as what I’d have done had it been a school-based placement.  Something I did notice though, is how challenging it was for the teachers to assess work. Some students would be working completely independently while others had constant support from their parents―this makes it tricky to accurately reflect on student progress.

How do you expect in-person classroom instruction during your IB practicum next year to differ from the virtual education you have just observed?

I look forward to visiting the school next year, so I can directly observe and make comparisons between remote and in-person classroom learning. During my remote learning experience, I was pleased to see inquiry-based learning permeated the majority of lessons. Based upon previous classroom experience and discussion with IB educators, this is even more prominent in a classroom setting, so I look forward to seeing the increased level of such.

“I’m intrigued to see how students will adapt to the changes of reverting back to face-to-face instruction”.

Additionally, next year, I expect to see even more collaborative learning taking place. Even in an online and remote context, I have observed students working together in breakout rooms online and through student-led discussions involving the whole class., I understand that this will be simpler in a face- to-face setting, therefore I can only assume more frequent as well.

During my virtual practicum, I was fortunate to witness the grade six Primary Years Programme (PYP) exhibition presentations―something I expect to be extremely different in a face-to-face setting. Students will have more choice over the format of their presentation and will be able to see how their peers engage during their presentation, something that was missing from this year’s virtual exhibition experience. It isn’t hard, however, to identify positives to this year’s exhibition experience, which were unique to presenting virtually. This year saw family, friends and other IB students from all over the world come together to watch and give feedback to the grade six pupils. It was lovely to see the amount of positive support they had from near and far.

I’m intrigued to see how students will adapt to the changes of reverting back to face-to-face instruction. Further, it will be interesting to then make comparisons between this and my school experiences in Scotland.

What advice do you have for other future educators as they navigate the differences in virtual to in-person teaching?

On the whole, I feel as though teaching staff have done all that they can to make the transition between face-to-face and remote learning as seamless as possible for students. It goes without saying that some alterations to learning and teaching will have been made but keeping a level of familiarity and routine for the students seems to be key. To do so, staff have continued to use and encourage known vocabulary and hand gestures as well as continuing with Golden Time1 and specialist lessons where possible.

“Know your class; the resources available to them, their preferred learning style and the structure they’re familiar with”.

In terms of advice, it has been and continues to be a period of uncertainty and a whole new experience for everyone. To me, the most important thing would be to go into it with an open mind. As with face-to-face instruction, each class will be different. Know your class; the resources available to them, their preferred learning style and the structure they’re familiar with. Not everything will work first time, and not every student will do every single piece of work set for them. Focus on student agency, teach them responsibility and encourage independence. It’s equally important to promote the sense of belonging and connectedness that you usually would. In a time where human contact and connection may be limited, it is more important than ever to check in with and listen to our students. This should hopefully in turn also increase motivation, engagement and willingness to learn.

Something that has been reinforced again and again throughout this and has stuck with me is that not all learning is done within the four walls of a classroom. Students are learning more than ever just now; becoming great risk takers, immersing themselves in new experiences and developing many of their skills. I think for us as educators, it is crucial that we keep reminding ourselves of this.

1Golden time is a common positive behaviour management approach. Pupils, ‘earn’, Golden Time for positive behaviour choices across the week, which they then enjoy, usually in a Golden Time session at the end of the week. In some schools and classes, this is structured (e.g. baking, craft, sports) in others it is pupil’s choice.
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Georgia Fullarton is completing her MA in education at the University of Dundee in Scotland.

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