In his diary as a curious young teacher, Ryan Chung recounts the many problems he has encountered teaching children on-line during the COVID-19 homestay period. The question shifts: from how to make an interesting video lesson to what fuels the desire to learn. 當上小學老師不久,鍾樹仁遇上了 COVID-19 給他的考驗 — 如何製作好玩而花枝招展的錄像教案應付網上教學?很快,他知道要問的是另一種問題。

 

“let the mind speak” 3

We have arrived at the final stage of video lessons production as school will commence in the near future. Since the beginning, I have asked myself the same questions repeatedly and it has finally yielded an answer. Or, rather, another question.

Some months ago, in my first few teaching videos, I spoke during most of them without altering much of the visual content. Not long later, I came across a video made by an unknown teacher from another school and it was almost fully composed of animations paired with sound effects. The features in the video include changing facial expressions and scenarios, moving objects from one side of the screen to another, enlarging and shrinking of object sizes, etc. Although many of the effects were not extravagantly effortful, they certainly still required time and energy. And, assuming it was fully produced by the teacher herself, that was quite a lot of effort spent willingly apart from the massive workload a teacher already had to bare. To produce videos that adhere to school curriculum, teachers had to design the content by themselves. Unlike face-to-face classroom lessons in which interactive teaching can be employed, video lessons have little to no space for that. Hence, it is important to create engaging content as an attempt to grasp students’ focus. In this case, the teacher has done a beautiful job.

I made my teaching video interesting…

To preface this discussion, let’s assume if the students are interested in the videos, they are more likely to absorb the knowledge. My first video, shot with the time limit of five to ten minutes, was just me talking to the camera non-stop. Then, when all of us had to produce at least twenty-minute long videos, we resorted to designing and recording Power Point slides that eventually rendered videos altogether. This, I supposed, is a common practice for most teachers in Hong Kong because of its accessibility and fair requirement of technical skills. I know it is hard to ask students to sit and only listen for twenty minutes straight, therefore, I always tried to incorporate as much “visual interest” as possible. For instance, colourful designs, images and “actions” were the elements I usually included. Doing these alone have already occupied some time and patience besides writing and reading the script, not to mention double-checking and rendering the video. Creating animations on top of that is honestly exhausting one’s ability. But, if the goal is to teach students in an effective way that is as close to when it is in a classroom as possible, then it is indeed reasonable for teachers to use whatever method that is conducive to the outcome, depending on how far one is willing to take.

For the next few videos, therefore, I challenged myself to put even more efforts. I drew pictures, added sound effects and used different tracks for background music. My goal was to catch students’ attention and hopefully maximize their learning. Though, the truth is many of them simply skipped through the videos, some even ignore them. Frankly, at the heart of the issue is students’ lack of willingness and eagerness to learn however interesting and engaging the video is. And as the level of participation was aggravated by long-distance learning, my effort simply doesn’t match the expected outcome. Then, how much is enough? I could definitely do better, yet I was always brought back to the point of questioning. This has surely been noticed by not only teachers, but also parents, realistically, as they saw their children slacking off gradually at home after they gained full ownership of learning under the circumstances of the past few months.

What are the missing links?

Adding to the difficulty of home learning, some families simply lack technical support — say, simple things such as smooth Internet provisions or a screen of a size sufficient to make words reasonably visible. Some families also need help with answering academic questions. The ball got thrown around between parents and schools like a hot potato and everyone is worried while most students are forgetting everything about school. Who can take care of all of this?

An article I recently read describes the learning situation in Italy and it reflects similar problems, albeit on a different level. [1] Parents struggling to follow their children’s learning progress, families facing technical problems, students disguise themselves while drifting off in the lessons, schools having to improvise adaptive measures of giving lessons and assessments, teachers having trouble with digital devices and so on — these seem to be common in Italy as well as Hong Kong. However, in order to fulfil a strict curriculum for the academic year, learning activities have to merely shrink for direct content delivery – one reads and many listen, that is, the most conservative scenario of teaching and learning. Such circumstances draw out the importance of classroom activities and interactions, elements integral to the necessity of schooling. Few of us can deny how crucial the school is as a place where children learn outside their families.

School is an indispensable social place.

The physical space of a school is essential for students to learn discipline and for socialization as part of their development. I think we can all agree on that. However, it is also clear that sometimes school systems place too much emphasis on uniforming children’s behaviour, neglecting the need to address nuisances in their personalities. School is at the forefront of education and so is family. It takes both agents to work together for children’s growth. Situations in these past few months have been a severe test for both families and schools, exposing inadequacies in on-going practices, which too often presume obedience, submission and conformity to stand behaviour as the main premises.

There is no need for blaming. Parents, teachers and students all grew up in the same educational system and most have put in tremendous efforts to acquire effective strategies to deal with life so far. Of course, one can always do better, though it matters how you make a difference. It has become a major belief of mine that learning starts from internal exploration, especially at times like this. For many years I never doubted that our interests and passion drive the direction of learning. It is, however, not a novelty to many people that their interests do not align with societal expectations. Perhaps, the more important question is, “how do we learn?” — because every day we have to learn no matter what. I had to deal with mathematics even if I prefer music much more; or, I had to finish my homework even if I much prefer playing video games. It seemed like we were stuck in this loop where eventually school caught up with us, and we had to learn enough to be graded qualified for moving up the social-and-academic ladder continuously. Such is reality. It was just a while ago when I began to make myself a gear in driving this education machine; and I have come to realize that one visually interesting video is not going to change anything.

Self-exploration motivates learning…

I guess we could hardly do the job right, because there will always be a better method. But we ought to search for it both for ourselves as teachers and for the children. When I mentioned internal exploration, what I meant was to understand what we desire to learn and in what ways do we learn the best. Therefore, to vaguely answer the question, “how do we learn?” I believe figuring out how to make use of materials for learning is the key when, in fact, there are abundant resources available one tap away from us – school teaching videos being just an example of them. Ultimately, if teachers and parents could help build a foundation for children to develop better understanding of themselves, then children would at least be able to take up part of the responsibility to learn on their own. And if adults could share the burden of enriching children’s self-exploration, then perhaps we could be less panicking and be more ready to resist aptly  what’s coming tomorrow.

(27 May 2020 / Hong Kong)

Notes

[1] Link to article: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/apr/24/italy-home-schooling-coronavirus-lockdown-what-weve-learned

Related reading 相關閱讀:

Ryan Chung: Let the Mind Speak 思維自說自話