We recently caught up with Richard Kirby, Head of Digital Learning, from All Hallows Prep School to see how they have been reacting to the challenge of school closures. He shares how they recently moved to virtual learning and are supporting home learning!
Tell us a little bit about your school
We’re a small prep school in rural Somerset, with 260 children. We don’t use a great deal of technology on a daily basis in school. However, we do use Office 365, so years 5-8 are engaging with their remote learning through Teams. During the initial closure, for the year groups below Year 5, we were sending emails with PDFs to parents each day - but we quickly realised that wasn’t going to work.
I used to work at Shrewsbury International School in Bangkok and we used Firefly on a daily basis so I knew I could make it work for our Junior children. I came across their COVID support offer and got in touch.
How do you ensure that pupils receive feedback?
We’re using the Tasks feature in Firefly purely as a method to get the work back. When setting up tasks, we ask our staff to think about the end product; what is it you want the kids to create? How do you want them to submit it? As a photo or a video? Take a picture of a printed handout? Or are they going to complete a quiz? This then dictates how they set the task and keeps them focussed on scaffolding the child to the end product.
I’ve seen teachers use it in very different ways. Sometimes they’ve created self-marking forms to get their kids to submit their answers for simple activities. So that way marking-wise they are able to better manage their workload. Finding other shortcuts, such as being able to download all student submissions in one go has also been transformational for staff.
How have you made the learning manageable for pupils?
We’ve only been using it with the littlies, so Nursery to Year 4. It’s been really interesting seeing the comparison when the children have got siblings in the older year groups, because they’re using Teams, and each have got their different advantages. Things we’ve loved about Firefly include:
- Simple Navigation
We’ve been able to use simple navigation links extensively so children aren’t trying to navigate through a menu. We’ve also made the classrooms to be as interactive as possible, so the parents can actually just leave them to get on with it, because the pages are intuitive. Using the Office 365 logins means that we have continuity across our year groups, which has also been helpful for the parents who are juggling many children and many hats.
- Using lots of colour and graphics
The storybook theme in Firefly Young Learner is really colourful, the children love it. The fact that it’s graphical is great. If we had launched Teams down to Year 2 or Year 1, I’m not sure we’d have had the level of engagement we are currently seeing as there’s so much less functionality in Teams in that way. It’s a business product as opposed to Firefly who have created their product purely for schools.
- Voice responses
We’ve got Year 1 children who are literally just opening the app, taking pictures of their work, and sending it in. Introducing them to the voice responses on the tasks, again, has been massive because for lots of our Year 1’s, for them just to record something, and then for the teacher to reply, it’s a real win, because lots of them can’t read fluently, and what they’re missing in isolation is hearing the teacher’s voice. The immersive reader integration has also had a really positive influence too.
- Pre-recorded videos and daily check-ins
Some senior schools are using online live lessons. However, to try and teach 20 kids, especially when they’re young is never going to work. Instead, we’re giving them pre-recorded videos and the opportunity to drop in on a call. So we have a morning meeting at 8:45 and we put this on the page using the Teams meeting integration. The children can then independently click through the link and join the meeting.
- Use of galleries & games to encourage independent learning
The kids really like Firefly, because they can sit and be independent on it. They can open their iPad and just sit and search through the site. Ensuring your permissions for certain areas are correct is vital. They can play the various games that we’ve put on for them. They love sitting and looking through the galleries the teacher has created with pictures from the kids each day.
How have you supported staff?
Initially, I had my concerns for some staff members who really weren’t confident at using technology. However, these have been unfounded. When I look at what they’ve created, it’s amazing, they’ve been able to put together some very creative pages using the simple drag and drop feature in Firefly and have thought outside the box to make their pages even more appealing to the children.
We created a forum page just for them to ask questions and share ideas. They are always asking “how did you do that?” because we gave them access to each other’s pages. It’s been amazing to see them learn a new job in the space of three weeks and watch them adapt and change their practise over this period of remote learning.
What’s been the biggest challenge that you’ve had to overcome with this long-term closure?
The biggest challenge to overcome is that if we were launching something like Firefly in the normal school environment, we would have had a series of parent and teacher seminars. We’ve obviously had to do all that remotely, so the Firefly support team and help centre with step-by-step videos have been absolutely crucial.
The hardest bit for the teachers was actually thinking of a different way of teaching because you can’t just pick up your classroom and move it online. There is no replacement for the person stood in front of you in a classroom. But to be able to embed videos and webpages, add content in really easily, and enable even the most technologically challenged staff to do it, for me, was a real big win.
Want to find out more? Richard recently shared his experiences & example activities in a co-hosted webinar with Firefly. Watch the recording here.