The WSA Guide to Online Learning

Everything you need to know in one handy guide. With two weeks of online learning fast approaching, many of our readers have contacted with a range of queries and concerns. We’ve approached numerous schools for their advice and are collating it into this feature – the UAE Education sectors’ top tips for making online learning a success. As more information and guidance is sent to us, we will continue to update this feature for you...
The WSA Guide to Online Learning
By Jenny Mollon
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Parents, we know many of you are worried and more than a little intimidated about the prospect of home educating your children. We get it, and as parents too, the WSA team share many of your concerns.

Since the news of the UAE wide school closures broke, we have been talking to educators across the UAE and asking for their best advice and tips for making online, at home learning a success.

We collated your questions into common themes and put them to teachers and school leaders. Their answers are below…

Keeping my child feeling happy and positive during their time at home is my first concern.  What advice can you give?

> Navin Valrani, CEO of Arcadia Education, Arcadia School

"This is a challenging time for us all.  I believe that parents first concern should be for the wellbeing of their children

Now is the time to get into a routine that will maintain both their mental and physical health during the school closures.  There is a strong correlation between mental and physical wellbeing.  I would say to parents to ensure that their child is doing something physical each day, whether that's working out from home or playing a sport.  That is so important.  

I'd also say that parents need to be attuned to their own non verbal cues.  If you are stressed and anxious, your child is likely to be too.  Right now is an excellent time to think about how your child will pick up on your behaviour.  Role modelling calm will be incredibly helpful!".

What can parents do now…today, to prepare for online learning?

> Michael Gernon, Chief Education Innovation Officer at GEMS Education

“First of all, I’d advise parents to take a few minutes to sit down and read the information that the schools have sent.

All our schools have prepared a remote learning plan offering clear guidance and sample weekly plans for what parents can begin to think about. We have collated our advice into ten really useful guidelines. These guidelines include things like “establish a routine and expectations for the school day” and “create a dedicated, quiet space for learning”. I’d say that these are the things parents should be thinking about from today.

> Sam Holliday, Head of Primary at Southview School

“I think the message that parents are giving their children about online learning is very important. Parents need to say to their children that this a moment when they should be taking responsibility. Say to your child that this is a challenging time for everyone, and a chance for them to show how grown up they can be in their learning.

Reassure your child that they already have the skills they need for successful learning at home. They can research things, they can reflect, they can ask questions.  All these things are so important.

I’d also say that it is vital that parents remember that the teachers know your kids really well! We will continue to challenge them, of course but we won’t set them anything downright impossible! The level of challenge will still be just right”.

>Navin Valrani, CEO of Arcadia Education, Arcadia School

"I think that right now is the time when parents need to be reminding their child how important adult help is.  Whilst older students may think they will cope going it alone, all research shows that, in fact, taking support from adults really pushes and accelerates their development".

What devices/resources will we need?

> Michael Gernon, Chief Education Innovation Officer at GEMS Education

“We’re absolutely not asking parents for anything different than their child uses already. I’m happy to say that our own evidence shows us that around 98% of our families already have a device at home that will be suitable.

Whatever device your child’s school uses, I want parents to know that we are very mindful that we are not creating hours and hours of screen time! There will be plenty of offline work and physical activities too”.

> Sam Holliday, Head of Primary at Southview School

“For younger children, like those in our Foundation Stage, I think this is a really good time for kids to get creative. So get the art supplies in! Have a few old T-shirts to hand and a place where your child can get messy. Things like exploring with water are a great activity for young children.

Whatever they are engaged in, I would just say that parents should think a little deeper about how the children reflect on their play. Ask them to explain to you what they are doing and ask lots of questions to help expand their thinking”.

> Russell Smart, Assistant Headteacher, Kings' School Al Barsha

"We have given all our families an 'Essential App List' which will be a key resource for our Key Stage 2 children.

By using Seesaw and Google Classroom, parents and children can use any device (iPad, tablet or desktop). In addition to these devices, we are asking that children have access to their usual writing equipment. We have also provided jotters/books for every child. Each of our teachers also took home an exercise book of their own - this will help them to model expectations and outcomes to the children!

We think it will be quite an eye-opener for many parents to see an iPad being used as an educational tool rather than a gaming tool."

My school is neither an Apple nor a Google school. What platforms should I expect my child to be using and how good are they?

> Sam Holliday, Head of Primary at Southview School

“In our secondary school, we use TEAM, which is a Microsoft Office 365 add on. The secondary students are very adept with managing their own learning on this already.

In Primary and Foundation Stage, we will be using Seesaw. It’s incredibly versatile. When a child opens their profile, they will see a Facebook like timeline of activities that they can scroll up and down. Teachers can create an activity and assign it to the class. We can upload pdfs and pictures and the teachers can record and share explanatory videos.

Once the children have read or watched the lesson or activity plan, they can record their response in a variety of ways. Number one, they can create a voice recording and explain their answer. They can also draw over a picture, making highlights and edits and submit their answers that way. What I really love is that the third option is recording their voice and picture edits at the same time. So teachers can hear and see why and how the student has come to their conclusions. Teachers can give feedback in the same ways, making it highly responsive platform. Seesaw is great!”

Parents in the UAE will be home educating their children for two weeks from 22 March 2020

What about Arabic? I am totally intimidated by the thought of teaching Arabic...

> Ben Rothwell, Assistant Principal at Victory Heights Primary School

"We recognise that teaching your child Arabic is an intimidating thought.

That's why, for the duration of the online learning period, we are merely asking children to consolidate their existing learning. We use the excellent Arabee programme with our younger year groups, who are already used to using it for homework anyway. For our older year groups, our Arabic department will post daily videos to help support you through this process".

How will schools keep my child safe online, how can I be sure safeguarding measures are working?

> Michael Gernon, Chief Education Innovation Officer at GEMS Education

“We know parents are concerned about this. What I would say is that all of the learning will be delivered in our existing digital ecosystem. Students will be using programs that are already familiar and which the schools can monitor. All our teachers are trained in an online safety programme called “Common Sense Media” and will be reiterating expectations for students’ behaviour online”.

>Russell Smart, Assistant Headteacher at Kings' School Al Barsha

"We have chosen apps that the children are familiar with, meaning that we have been able to take certain measures to control what can and can not be posted.

For example, on Seesaw, the class teacher has to approve posts and comments before they become visible to others.

For Google Classroom, you need a code to sign up to become a member of the specific classroom - they are not open to just anyone to join.

If we require children to explore the internet beyond these apps, we will be directing them to specific websites or videos with links rather than asking them to openly search the internet themselves. This is already common practice in our classrooms via the Apple Classroom app for the iPad".

My child is preparing for exams, I'm very worried - please put my mind at rest?

> Michael Gernon, Chief Education Innovation Officer at GEMS Education

“We understand. From the start, our number one priority has been planning for our ongoing exam classes. As you know, there have been extensions made for IB DP students and other exam boards are looking at this carefully. We are in discussions with the KHDA about how best to support students taking exams and submitting coursework for subjects like art and design technology. We will issue information to parents as soon as we have it.

Overall I would say that we will be giving exam classes really exceptional support”.

Thomas Blakemore, a Year 2 teacher at Kent College Dubai has prepared this helpful video guide for parents and students about to start their online learning journey. Mr Blakemore has a

where he typically shares videos designed for teachers, but has this time turned his attention to the pressing topic of the day: making a success of online learning.


>Navin Valrani, CEO of Arcadia Education, Arcadia School

"Educators know that this is especially difficult time for those students about to take their exams.  Teachers, school leaders and exam board worldwide are intensely focused on supporting these students.  

My advice to parents would be to start creating a your own online eco-system for students.  There are online tutors and mentors all over the globe.  Connect with them and create a global network for of support for your child.  I honestly think that with all the preparation and thought that is going into this, the results will be outstanding!"

My child has additional support at school. How can I make sure they are getting what they need?

>Ben Rothwell, Assistant Principal at Victory Heights Primary School

"Our learning enhancement intervention groups will continue to take place, and the inclusion department will continue enrichment with these children.

We will all be monitoring their progress, making sure all children, especially those with additional needs, are achieving".

What about very young children?  Our school always say they learn through play... how can I replicate that at home?

> Sam Holliday, Head of Primary at Southview School

“It’s challenging, and the schools and teachers do know that. I would say that if parents are comfortable with small play-dates, they will really help. That interaction will be really important for your child. The positive of the time at home will be that it’s a great opportunity for consolidating what your child has already learned, especially when it comes to practicing letters and sounds”.

Will my child still have PE lessons?

>Ben Rothwell, Assistant Principal at Victory Heights Primary School

"Obviously, we don't want our children to be glued to their screens during this time! Physical activity is a vital component of a child's schooling, and we want this to continue during the home learning period.

Our PE department is making short video clips with activity ideas and challenges to help keep your child active".

I work and cannot be at home. How can I help my home helper/nanny to facilitate learning?

> Sam Holliday, Head of Primary at Southview School

“Again, I think it’s about having those ‘grown up’ conversations with the children. Say to them that this should be over in two weeks, so I am trusting you to take ownership and responsibility of what you are doing.

Ask your children to really commit to doing their absolute best. Remind your child that their day at ‘normal’ school is usually longer, so if they focus and get the work done…they will have the rest of the day!

Our teachers will be available during their regular working hours for support. I’d say to parent who are working, to stay in close contact with the teachers.

It may be that some parents decide that it’s better to do the school work when they themselves are home from work, but if that is the case I would recommend you speak to your school about how it will work”.

>Ben Rothwell, Assistant Principal at Victory Heights Primary School

"Our material should be simple enough for children to understand and work from. If you have a nanny to support your child during this time (and we totally understand that you may not be available yourself) then a good start is to ensure your nanny is helping your child to stick to routines, and to stay focused during their allocated lesson times.

As a parent, you can always ask for our advice later in the day, if it seems that your child may not have grasped concepts during the day".

Will I be the 'teacher'? HELP!

> Michael Gernon, Chief Education Innovation Officer at GEMS Education

It’s definitely not all on you! I recommend you keep close with the school, there will be lots of communication, and daily contact. You are on not alone!”

> Sam Holliday, Head of Primary at Southview School

“Our approach is going to be to make sure there is lots of personal contact with between parents, teachers and students. We don’t expect parents to be the teacher, but lots of support and guidance will be a huge help. More than ever, partnering with your child’s school will be essential”.

What happens if my child is struggling with his/her work?

> Sam Holliday, Head of Primary at Southview School

“We know that the children will miss the immediacy of asking questions in class. This is where we have to have a really open two way dialogue between home and school.

Remember that it’s ok for parents to highlight to the teacher that they need to differentiate or explain things differently. With videos lessons, children can rewind and watch again and again. That may well help!”

>Russell Smart, Assistant Headteacher, Kings' Al Barsha

In Kings' we call this the 'learning pit' ...parents should know that we expect every child to struggle or feel stuck at some point, otherwise it means that we are not challenging them enough!

That being said, at home, it could be really tempting to help your child a little too much. Showing your class teacher the errors and misconceptions that your child is making is far more beneficial to the learning process than doing it for them.  If you are open with teachers, they can provide additional support or challenge where needed.

We would ask that your children are open about their learning with you as parents and with their class teacher. This can be done through the feedback notes, comments and responses to the work.

If you still feel that they have not understood a concept, it is really important to message the class teacher directly just like you would speak to them at the end of the school day".

> Michael Gernon, Chief Education Innovation Officer at GEMS Education

“We want parents be mindful of stress or worry in their children, so I would say...try to create a system of regularly checking in with their child’s teacher to see how they are getting on. Begin and end each day with a check in and be assured that our teachers will be available to support you and your child. All families will adapt to this time in their own unique way, and I think that is fine.

Lastly, parents should be mindful of the fact that exciting as the school closures may have first seemed to our children…that will quickly wear thin and children will miss school, their teachers and friends.

They may want to contact their friends on social media, which is fine, but parents should set clear expectations for behaviour around that, too”.

Will my child start to fall behind?

>Ben Rothwell, Assistant Principal at Victory Heights Primary School

"We don't believe so. We are new to online learning - just like you are , but we are confident that the materials we have put together, coupled with our plan to support home learning will mean that your child still makes good progress. Of course, the experience will be different to school, and will take some adjustments, but it should be treated as a positive, learning, experience".

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