Within the first month of lockdown Axium pivoted to become a fully engaged Remote
Learning organisation. Our reach has been limited by student and family connectivity, but we have worked on the principles of “something is better than nothing”, and “attempt, analyse, adapt". We have been experimenting with some fun ways to keep students connected to school and learning. One of these methods is through hosting classes over Whatsapp. These 'Whatsapp classrooms' have been taking place on a daily basis across both our Zithulele and PSP sites with our senior learners.
Hosting a 'Whatsapp classroom' requires all participants to have a device that can access Whatsapp, to have data and to be online on a specific Whatsapp group at the same time. To give you a sense of what a typical 'Whatsapp classroom' looks like we have tried to capture some of the different classes through screenshots below:
The lessons usually start off with some form of greeting or check in with the learners. This can be a short engagement or interaction that creates a bit of classroom atmosphere before the learning begins. Teachers then kick off the lesson by getting into the content. This can happen in a variety of ways, through photos, voicenotes, drawings or worksheets.
The lessons continue in this fashion for the duration of the period. At the end of the lesson, the teacher usually poses some questions for homework, takes a register and sends encouragement to the students.
One teacher shared her reflections on what she particularly enjoys about this method of teaching:
1. As a teacher I can send a child a private message while teaching (to say "you're asking great questions today" for example).
2. I can read through past classes to see what I set for homework, who responded to what, which learners are frequently late, etc.
3. Learners are far more likely to confide in me through private messages than they would in person and they all have my number so there are fewer barriers.
4. Learners spend more time reading and writing in WhatsApp class than they would in normal class which is good preparation for written assessments.
5. Me writing means I can take more time to consider exactly how I want to explain something and prevent confusion.
6. I find I have better control of the lesson by being able to easily refer back to past explanations, questions etc to reiterate things.
7. There are no discipline issues which means I spend more time teaching and kids spend more time learning.
8. This is not to say that in an ideal world there would only be WhatsApp lessons but rather to say that WhatsApp can be really effectively used as a teaching tool. There are also many benefits such as familiarity with the technology, no sound/technical interruptions and for second language speakers, reading text can be easier than listening to someone speak.
While there is still much uncertainty about when schools will reopen we feel that Remote Learning will be with us for the foreseeable future. We have been able to train many of our staff around remote teaching and many of our dedicated teachers across our two sites have been continuing to work with their learners virtually through "Whatsapp classrooms" and various other ways. We know that maintaining a connection with school – in some shape or form – is extremely important during this time.
"Whatsapp classrooms" are fun and effective and they provide a sense of engagement and community with our learners, nevertheless we long to get back into the real classroom!