This year at Pivot we have delved into some pretty big questions about the impact of COVID-19 on education. Our research focused on those at the frontline of education during COVID-19 – our teachers – and we found their greatest concerns were for students’ well-being and learning loss. When segmenting by ICSEA (school socio-economic status), educators in lower income schools were most concerned with access to technology.
But what do students think?
As the CEO of Pivot, I have had the privilege this year of speaking to more than 60 schools on their results of our Student Perception Survey on Teaching Effectiveness, incorporating hundreds of thousands of student responses. This has given me a unique insight into how students have experienced this year in a variety of contexts. I’ve spoken to school leaders that experienced remote learning from three weeks through to three terms of remote learning. I have spoken to school leaders in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, India and many more. While we will be publishing a more fulsome analysis at the end of the school year, I wanted to share some initial thoughts.
Student Engagement and Challenging Goals
When speaking to schools there have been two main themes this year: a lack of student engagement and perceived challenge. As our survey is aligned with the AITSL teaching framework, there are a number of items in our survey with strong connections to student engagement (questions on interest, focus, and engagement). Many of the schools I have spoken to have had at least two of their lowest 3 scoring items directly tied to engagement. Another subset of schools revealed their lowest scoring item was related to setting challenging goals. Interestingly, some schools had a combination of both: a perception of low engagement and lack of challenge.
The next steps:
Taking the discussion to the students
When discussing these results, school leaders and teachers have shown little surprise. This year has shifted priorities and potentially led to an over-correction to support student wellbeing over interest and challenge, which are often linked. After speaking to one Primary school leader in NSW where engagement was a core issue for students in her school, she set out to facilitate focus groups with students. The takeaway from those discussions was that students didn’t feel very challenged this year even though the school had only experienced one window of remote learning.
Taking on student feedback
One school we supported this year was determined to understand why students were less engaged this year. They designed a series of follow-up surveys through our Pulse Check tool to get to the core of what was ‘missing’. Many students identified that a lack of collaborative work and hands-on activities in their classes was the main culprit, both in remote and during in-classroom learning. Based on these results, the school leaders worked with their teachers to ensure that a variety of instructional styles were used for the remainder of the school year.
Start the conversation
Through each data coaching discussion, I have been struck by the diversity of school contexts and the commonality of students perspectives. During these discussions we work together with school leaders to identify areas of need. One key objective for our Student Perception Survey is that the data becomes a starting point for discussions with students about their learning experiences. As a partner to our schools, we cannot always easily answer why students feel less engaged and challenged this year, as each context is unique. What I can say is that it’s never too late to speak to students about their experiences this year to ensure that we keep our best learning practices into 2021, and may identify that some practices are tweaked or left behind.
About the Author
Amanda has spent the past 15 years in education technology with a focus on professional learning, online learning, STEM, computer science education, and curriculum development. After stumbling into EdTech after graduate school, she has helped build and launch multiple organisations in the US with a focus on improving teacher practice and student outcomes.