Maan has been teaching the PREP 2 PSLE Programme since 2016. She is based at Woodlands Learning Centre. In this article, Maan shares her initial concerns and fears as she embarked on online teaching and how she managed to overcome them. She also describes some of the challenges she faced when her students returned to the learning centre in Phase 2 after the circuit breaker period.
The COVID-19 pandemic had suddenly forced DAS sessions to shift from traditional classroom learning to the online platform. At the start of Term 2, 2020 DAS lessons were scheduled to be delivered online. I was very apprehensive and felt a huge pressure. I was going to teach online for the first time ever and was hardly prepared.
The rapid shift to online teaching was totally dreadful for me. The major stumbling block when I embarked my journey online was the difficulty to manage the technical glitches in real-time. My lack of digital knowledge to support my students and parents at home was an added frustration. These difficulties initially disrupted the learning experience of my students. However, the immense and timely support from our fellow colleagues during these trying times had greatly eased the situation. The valuable sharing during the P2P inset has greatly helped in my execution of P2P online lessons. In particular, the sharing of KAMI tool to work on PDF documents allowed me to collaborate with my students using PDF-formatted worksheets by highlighting, annotating and providing immediate feedback. Above all, the collaborative work of the P2P team to make available weekly videos and worksheets was indeed commendable. The Woodlands LC team too had generously shared strategies that helped reduced the real-time problems and boosted my digital literacy.
Initially, I was worried about how the students can be accountable to complete their task without me literally looking over their shoulders. I was also overly concerned that online delivery mode is likely to slow down the pace of intervention for students with learning difficulties. However, it was amazing the students quickly adapted to the altered style of learning. This pandemic certainly has provided opportunities to develop our students to become self-directed learners.
It cannot be denied that the physical remoteness of online lessons makes interpersonal interactions quite cold. I felt quite challenged as a teacher, to ensure my students were actively interacting, engaging and learning. Fortunately, P2P worksheets are structured progressively from guided to independent practise to evaluate the acquired knowledge. This allows me to better understand the effectiveness of the lesson delivered. But, some students needed more encouragement and motivation than the rest as they tend to take cover behind the closed camera. In physical classrooms, body language cues and eye contacts usually enhance and contribute to the learning for these students. In the home environment where parents tend to be in close proximity, particularly during the circuit breaker period, students were observed to be less candid in their interaction. All these factors to some extent affected the learning experience of the students. I was really looking forward to returning to face-to-face learning.
In Term 3, Week 2 our students finally returned to face-to-face learning. But we were faced with new challenges as the new normal is not normal. The new practices to ensure our safety entails a lot of adjustments. Although students were already accustomed to safety measures observed in MOE schools, the new normal in DAS still seems overwhelming for them. The break time restriction is one that the students have difficulty getting used to.
Constant reminders and reinforcements are also needed for students to maintain a safe distance at all times. They tend to return to the pre-COVID mindset even during teaching. Students just come closer to the teacher for support whenever needed. It seems that it is easier for them to show the worksheets and get instant clarification. This especially happens with foundation students who tend to be quiet during online lessons. They struggle when required to verbalize their difficulties from their seats. Similarly, when the students return to face-to-face classroom setting where the teacher is readily available their learning attitude tends to change accordingly. Gestures in conjunction with speech seem inevitable when a worksheet is projected on the whiteboard. Moreover, my students are also reluctant to take their worksheets home. They prefer to file in their respective red file as they normally do.
The face mask worn during lessons is another challenge for both teachers and students. I have difficulty engaging class discussions when students at times have to repeat themselves to be understood. Interaction is an important part of language development and the new normal tend to impede such progress.
My students and I will certainly need more time to change what we have always known and adapted to the new normal. I will continue to evaluate and persist to overcome the initial obstacles my students and I are facing in this new normal but the learning objectives I have set for them will remain unchanged. I will continue to monitor if the learning outcomes I have set for them have been achieved because my ultimate goal is to ensure that all my students thrive and reach their true potential in the P2P.
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