The city of Xi’an has been under lockdown since December 22/2021 due to an outbreak of Covid19. China is committed to zero cases of the virus and implements a robust approach to protect members of the community. Cases are dropping through a concerted effort of government, health care workers and cooperative citizenry, an army of volunteers. Jiayou Xian!
So what does this mean for our students?
For the month of January schools throughout our city are back online. The first two and a half weeks of the 2021-22 school year were online here in August. In both cases the return to face to face learning was and will be cause for great jubilation. We miss the face to face interaction with our students and our students miss on-campus lessons and interaction with friends and teachers. Collectively, we look forward to the return of our on-campus life in February after Chinese New Year.
We learned much from February through April 2020 from our first online experience. Throughout those months, we checked in with students, teachers and parents often to find out how we were doing and, we sought the collective wisdom of the community to make improvements. Through surveys and online discussions, we heard loudly and clearly that our synchronous teaching was the right way to proceed but parents and teachers were concerned about the amount of screen time and the impact on students’ health and, well-being.
To minimize screen time, we introduced “Unplugged Days” and “Unplugged Afternoons.” The focus of these unplugged times for our MYP students is personalized learning. All of our MYP 1- 4 students work on PBL Project Based Learning META Projects throughout the year where they design a project and research and plan an outcome (project) and document the process. Our META Projects focus on student agency and personalized learning. Students are empowered to lead their own learning and make choices.
Students integrate the ATL (approaches to learning) skills of research, social, thinking, self-management, and communication and SDG’s (Sustainable Development Goals) and Learner Profile attributes into their projects. They document the process along the way and include their struggles and triumphs in their journals. During unplugged times, we ask students to move away from the computer to plan, build, draw, create, imagine their projects outside the screen. Some students had to make adjustments with their project plans to move offline. Students meet with their homeroom teachers at the start and end of unplugged times to share their objectives and outcomes. We have also brought in some experts to provide inspiration and advice for the META project.
For MYP Five students, their focus for Unplugged Days is their Personal Projects, the culminating self-directed project of their five years of the Middle Years Programme. The students are near the completion of their projects and working simultaneously on their research and reports that will be submitted to the IB. This time to focus on their projects has been valuable for the students. Each student has a supervisor and they have been communicating through video chats and messages on the portal.
Our teachers innovate to meet the needs of students, altering tasks and the order or length of units to take advantage of the current context. Teachers are committed to meet the MYP criteria, Ontario Learning Outcomes, through the IB curriculum framework. There is room for teacher and student innovation, critical and creative thinking. For our DP students, we keep up with the demands of the programme, cognizant of the importance of meeting the required hours for the standard and higher-level courses. Our priorities are the continuation of powerful learning with student well-being at the centre.
“Drawing the portrait (the face) can be hard, frustrating, and scary for many students. Learning how to do this online during lockdown can be even harder and lonely. I wanted students to enjoy practicing how to draw the face. I wanted them to feel like they were together and not alone. And that it can be a game and fun learning a new art skill with your friends online. I wanted them to feel connected through practicing drawing one another.” Tracy Shi, Art assistant and teacher, with XLIS since 2019.
Every class involves time away from the computer to complete tasks independently where students can conference individually with the teacher in rotation. In the middle school, students should have little homework in the evenings. They have spent enough time on focused learning and the hope is that they can unplug, exercise and interact with families through conversations, board games, discussions.
Mental health is so important. Our school counsellor, Ms. Michelle will be meeting with every homeroom class to check in with our students. Students who need individual support can book an appointment with Ms. Michelle. Because this is such a crucial and stressful time for our graduating class with university applications, completion of internal assessments and mock exams upcoming Ms. Michelle is meeting with every DP2 student for twenty minutes to check in.
“During this time our bodies and minds are accumulating a lot of stress, anxiety and trauma. Both from online learning, testing and the uncertainty of the situation. It’s important as human beings we allow ourselves the opportunity to release these feelings and this can happen through daily calm. In Miss Sammy’s classes we have been doing this through meditations, brain breaks, let’s see what’s outside our window breaks, and musical chairs with actions. These moments allow our minds, the time to release cortisone the stress hormone as well as reminding us of breathe the most natural form of mindful control.” Ms Sammy, English language Acquisition Teacher at XLIS since 2016.
Teachers, like Shreya Sethi have integrated the concept of isolation into their teaching so students can deal directly with feelings of loneliness and isolation and make art work that can be healing through representation. Below are student representations of the isolation they feel or what they see from their windows or beauty in the mundane things that surround us.
“There are always positives and negatives to every situation. I feel that online learning while challenging opens the opportunity for new perspectives. I get to see my students in a different light from the comfort of their own homes. I am constantly surprised by the resilience of our students but also by their never-ending creativity and ability to create something amazing while in a tough situation.” Shreya Sethi, MYP DP Visual Art teacher at XLIS since 2016.
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Author: Daun Yorke (Secondary Principal)