Wrapped in learning: from threads to blankets (part 2)

Last week, we picked up our son’s Term 2 ‘Adventure Pack’ at primary school, which included a skipping rope (socially distanced exercise), a tulip bulb (hopefully fares better than last term’s sunflower seeds) and jelly crystals (Week 3 science lesson on ‘mixtures’). 

Among the handwriting worksheets and new login details for maths and reading apps was the school ‘badge challenge’. All students receive a blanket to be ‘wrapped’ or indeed ‘rapt’ in learning from home, completing activities for badges such as ‘Lego Master’, ‘Garden Gnome’ or my personal favourite, ‘Helping Hand’ (research indicates that children who are given chores fare better later in life).

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Images from Abbotsford Public School Badge Challenge

The transition from threads of red wool to a complete ‘blanket’ of learning feels apt. Children may be slowly returning to school, but the blanket and its longer-term milestones remind us the majority of learning is still happening remotely for a while. 

Picking up the ‘threads’ from part 1 of this post, here are some deeper reflections on what we are learning (so far) about supporting education during an unpredictable pandemic.      

Threads of learning

“Every day is a sort of jigsaw puzzle. You have to make sure that you’re putting the most important things first” (Julia Hartz)

Consider threads as the core structures or curriculum; pieces of work to be checked off and submitted; maths, writing, worksheets and learning apps. In many ways, these have been one of the easier aspects of remote learning to manage, and where EdTech and digital solutions have naturally stepped up. 

There have been new platforms to manage and master for students, teachers and parents, but once routines are established, patterns of learning form and expectations become clearer. Threads alone, however, are not enough for sustainable learning, motivation and wellbeing.

Weaving threads together

“Everything is better when we stick together” (The LEGO Movie)

Many things bring these learning threads together, both formal and informal. Much ‘formal’ weaving is done by the organisation and operations of educational institutions, and the teamwork of teachers, administrators and leaders.

In our local school, for example, surveys were sent to families to check on device ownership and barriers to learning at home; devices were sourced and made available by the school; teachers learned and then patiently taught parents and students how to access new platforms. Finally, school leaders dealt with hundreds of hidden threads behind the scenes and did their best to create clear lines of communication.

Weaving together a learning experience remotely is tough, no matter how quickly you can get onto Seesaw, Google Classroom or Moodle. Thoughtful teachers recognise that their personal comments, voices and videos can be the highlight of a learner’s day – a meaningful connection in the absence of a classroom environment. If there’s one way I can get my son’s attention during a day of home schooling, it’s with a call of “Ms C. has left a comment on your writing!”. During these weeks, the power of teacher feedback has never been more evident.  

Wrapped in learning: the blanket

“The oak fought the wind and was broken, the willow bent when it must and survived” (Robert Jordan)

Finally, the ‘informal’ communities that support and connect learning have been invaluable as education has fragmented and taken up residence in our blurred homes and work spaces. Keeping students and parents connected might not have been the first priority; now, however, we depend on various social threads to keep us informed, motivated and slightly saner as the restrictions imposed by COVID-19 drag on. 

When schools first shifted to remote learning, the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper featured an article with some great quotes from school-aged children sharing their experiences, both good and bad. The underlying message was that they missed the holistic experience of learning the most; it wasn’t one single aspect, but the combination of physical environment, the teachers’ presence, being with friends and many more tiny details. 

With the return to school, the Herald once again invited students of all ages to submit their reflections. Ella Berckelman (17 years old) from Randwick describes how learning isn’t just the curriculum, but about the whole experience:

“Re-entering the school gates will deliver so much joy to our school community and bring little experiences back to life: waving good morning to school maintenance workers, eating lunch together, greeting teachers, slipping on our school uniform. We’ve collectively developed a newfound appreciation for every aspect of school life. It feels magical. We’re all buzzing to re-embark on our school journey, however this time with gratitude, compassion and strength filling the atmosphere like it never has before.”

And the school blanket? We’ve definitely earned the LEGO badge, but I’m especially looking forward to awarding our six year-old the ‘Shake It Off’ badge, for being resilient, taking on new challenges and accepting that things aren’t always going to go our way. In fact, maybe we could all iron that badge on our blankets.