• Anne Gunning

Learning through Lockdown. January 2021

Updated: May 3, 2021

In a ''normal'' January and February I usually hibernate. I have time to strike things off my to-do list. Yes, I am still teaching part time but there is no one calling about freelance work for the year ahead and not a lot to do in my own garden. That all starts in ''Mad March'' when a little bit of sunshine brings out the fair-weather gardeners.

So usually it’s a bit like lockdown.

This January is different. I haven’t got a do-to list as I got through most of it in last year’s lockdown; the bathroom ceiling is painted, I fixed the dodgy windscreen wiper and I emptied and used all the compost I made.

Because I am of a certain age, there is no home schooling for me to do. There’s just me, husband and the dog. I am lucky too that my dad is fit and well and pleased that he has had 2 vaccine injections. So I have a lot more time and less pressure than some people. Some of my students are in a similar position so have time to learn new stuff. Other students are up to their eyes in work as they are key workers, looking after vulnerable or elderly relatives, shielding, looking after children and everyone is worried about the future. Learning should be enjoyable and for some, during lockdown, it isn’t.

This is how January lockdown in 2021 is going for me and my students who are studying for the RHS level 2 theory qualification.

Here are 5 things I learnt this January which have changed the way I teach forever.

1. Videos are good and they don’t have to be perfect.

I can spend hours trawling through the internet for good videos to show in lessons. Videos are particularly useful for students who do evening classes as it’s dark outside but everyone says they find them useful. If students have the link they can go back and look at them when revising. We decided to make our own videos. My colleagues and I at Cheadle College felt very uncomfortable as ‘performers’ at first but it is getting easier. We learnt not to video when it is windy because all you can hear is wind and that a tripod is useful to keep the camera still. We learnt that presenting a video seems like it is 10 mins long to the presenter but is actually 20 minutes long so we have been working on making them shorter and more succinct. We learnt that however hard we try we don’t like the video we made and will agonise over how we could have done better. I don’t even watch mine – If I make a big mistake on content I will re-do it but otherwise: PUBLISH

The good thing about your own video is that you are highlighting the points you want to highlight. You can set it up so you have props to hand and it really makes you (as a tutor) focus on what is important about that particular topic when you are preparing for it. In the future I can still do ‘live’ presentations but these videos will be really useful to show the key highlights for a particular topic. I hope to keep making them even after lockdown.

2. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs still applies

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To be motivated to learn, Maslow suggested that learners need to feel safe, secure, warm, well rested, and not hungry in order to achieve their full potential. It is no wonder that many learners are struggling. This pandemic is frightening and people are losing their jobs. Key workers are not well rested, furloughed people wonder if they will still have jobs and the fear of catching the virus is always present for everyone.

After one zoom call when some students gave me an insight into how they were feeling I decided to make homework after a zoom lesson optional. I think it is important to set work to do between lessons as it highlights things you don’t understand and helps to retain information. However at the moment, 3 hours of zoom a week is enough for some students. We will go through the homework for those who have done it and those who haven’t can learn from the queries. I wonder if this will work when things get back to normal - I shall ask the students. In the past they have said that they like to have a weekly quiz at the start of the lesson as it makes them open their books between lessons.

3. Exams are good.

A deadline really helps to keep the mind focussed. I’m doing the couch to 5k at the moment and what keeps me focussed is wanting to look good for a wedding in May. It’s the same for RHS theory exams. When the February 2021 exams were cancelled there were mixed emotions from students. Those that had studied hard over Christmas (as I had advised) were disappointed because they are worried they will forget it all. Those that hadn’t studied hard were relieved. I was relieved as I was worrying how I was going to fit all the teaching in before February as we had had a slower start in September due to Covid19. Now there is uncertainty about when exams will be held, it’s hard to get motivated to study as there is no end date. In 2020 many students were disappointed that they couldn’t do their exams in June and said it spoilt their Summer because they had to keep learning until the rescheduled exams in September. This is a story I will tell students in the future – be glad you have exams because at least you know when you can stop revising and if exams are at the usual time you have all Summer to enjoy your garden.

4. I learnt different ways to teach the same thing

I have learnt lots of remote teaching skills. The basic version of ''Zoom'' is free but limits you to 40 mins and then cuts you off but I think that’s long enough for a learning session. I think I need to make my teaching sessions a bit shorter when we return to face to face lessons and have more breaks – the problem is, there is no automated ''off'' switch!

On Zoom I find PowerPoints useful to help me explain concepts and show photos and they also make sure I don't miss out anything important. I then share the powerpoint afterwards. We do past exam questions together and one idea that has worked well is to ask each learner to think of 1 question to ask the group next week on a topic we covered this week. This means they have to go through the notes and then they have to think of a good answer to their question. The main reason why I did this is so I am not the one talking all the time. I will definitely continue to do this in the future as it has worked really well. This is also a really good exercise to demonstrate how difficult it is to write a question which leads to the answer you want. It helps us to understand how difficult it is to set exam questions.

5. Looking after yourself is more important than passing exams

When the second lockdown came I was still in the ‘I must get a 100% pass rate’ mind set. Usually tutors are expected to make sure their students are retained (don’t leave) and achieve. (pass the whole qualification). The other worry for tutors is not covering all the syllabus before exams start. This is a constant worry for me, even in a normal year. This year has been hard because as well as unpredictable absences, snow days, fire drills etc. there has been self isolation for 2 weeks and a real anxiety about entering a college where lots of young people are studying. Also I couldn’t do groupwork like I usually do and discussing things through masks is not easy.

I have changed my mind about how pushy I should be about revising for exams.

Gardening should always be good for your mental health and if you are getting anxious about missing zooms or revising, then just put yourself on pause. Go for walks, wander around your garden, do some jobs, listen to the birds, dream of Summer warmth and family barbeques. Gardeners are patient – we have to be – there is no instant gratification when you plant 500 bulbs in Autumn. We can wait. Studying can wait. I hope my manager doesn’t read this. All we can do is our best and that will be different for everyone.

I always like to put pictures in my blog as another hobby is photography. So here’s some cheery pictures from the School Gardens at RHS Tatton Park Flower Show. Hopefully we can all visit RHS Flower shows and other beautiful gardens very soon.

I think it should say run for your life but this shows soapy solution being used to expel aphids.(greenfly)

This is a woolly aphid, a type of aphid that likes apple trees.

Ants in your pants

Ratty (Wind in the Willows) Think we are all getting a bit ratty at the moment!!

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