Some things would just never work in an online lesson

There are quite some contrasts in the emotions of being back in the classroom. I would be lying if I said that I was totally happy and comfortable to be back in the classroom. Having said that, it is great to be back doing some physical teaching and pushing the pupils to experiment and try activities and approaches that simply wouldn’t be possible in the distant learning situation.

One such example from yesterday.  The context was an initial session at the beginning of a series of lessons about abstraction in visual art.

Later on there will be assignments giving the pupils the chance to create abstract compositions that focus on dynamism and flow in an image, but today I wanted to get my group of fourteen year olds to loosen up, experiment with abstract mark-making and to draw a parallel with the abstract language offered by music.

Using eight different pieces of instrumental music and applying different ‘rules’ to each drawing a sheet of increasingly wild drawings was made.  We had fun, they smiled and laughed on seeing their own and the results of others. They were engaged and curious. The results made were maybe not of great artistic merit, but they were part of a process leading onto other things.

Would this lesson have worked online? Without a doubt it would not. Of course I could have played the music to them via the computers. I could also have asked them to have had paper and pencils ready. I could even have given exactly the same explanation about what they had to do. But still it would not have worked. Such a lesson (and there are many more in all areas of education) only work because you are sharing and participating together in an activity. It is perhaps not dissimilar to going to a theatre to watch a stand-up comedian or watching it alone on your laptop. The material might be the same but the experience isn’t.

We are social creatures and also social learners, being part of a group of peers, together with a teacher, brings a dynamic that rarely occurs in the online environment. In an art room context it is a dynamic that can be used to push learners further as they look over their shoulders and respond and react to the work that others around them are doing.

First day back

Every school year starts with a deep intake of breath and a feeling of here we go again.  This year, as I sit in the train, the intake of breath is through my mask that covers my nose and mouth.  The display boards outside on the platform remind us to keep our distance from one another. 

Today isn’t a lesson day, it is for me a morning of meetings and a chance to look at the classrooms and judge if they are appropriately set up for the maximum safety and in such a way that the lessons themselves will actually function with at least some sense of normality.  In the Netherlands we are starting the year with schools that plan and hope to operate to a level that is close to how they start every August.  1500+ pupils, 120+ personnel on one location in our case.  Is this realistic?  Is it sustainable?  My heart says I hope so, my head says probably not, or at least not for very long.  Time will tell of course, but while I was preparing my lessons last week I did catch myself looking forward to doing some proper teaching.  I love my subject and I have so much material that I like using with the pupils I teach. The online lessons back in the spring were to a degree functional and served a purpose, but they simply didn’t have either the fun or the fizz of the real classroom. 

All set for the first staff meeting, with our easy to measure social distancing floor!

There are so many questions and uncertainties as we start the year.  I suspect that there might be quite a bit to write about as we go along!