Dandenong North Primary School is a large Primary School in the South Eastern Metropolitan area of Melbourne. Approximately 80% of students come from non-English speaking backgrounds with many refugee students enrolling throughout the year. Students working on the EAL curriculum are withdrawn from classrooms to receive intensive English instruction. These students experience difficulty understanding and internalising new vocabulary, particularly when it is related to unfamiliar situations. They also find it difficulty following instructions when background noise is high and instructions are complex or are explaining a new experience.
Year six students attended science sessions once a week at Lyndale Secondary College. Students, whose English proficiency still requires them to work on the EAL English Companion Curriculum, experienced difficulty participating fully in these science sessions. They needed more repetition of new terms or vocabulary and longer to process the instructions given by the teachers. They lacked confidence when questions were asked and so remained silent. These students also tended to follow the prompts of their partners in laboratory sessions. Discussions about these issues led to the idea of giving the EAL students an experience of the science session prior to the actual lesson. The Lyndale Secondary science teacher agreed to trial this idea but was unable to visit the school due to timetable clashes and Dandenong
North was unable to transport the students to the secondary college. All agreed to trial video conferencing instead.
Both schools undertook a trial transmission to determine how best to set up the learning session and discussed how the session might work during this transmission. As this was a trial, the leadership team wanted to evaluate it, so it was agreed that the video conference session would be filmed, as would the actual lesson in the laboratory.
The science teacher delivered sample equipment to Dandenong North the day before the Polycom session and this was set up in a quiet conference room.
The session began smoothly from the outset. A teaching space had been arranged by Lyndale for their science teacher to use, ensuring no distractions from background movement. The lesson was to investigate the use of microscopes and all necessary equipment that would be used the following day was available for the seven students to use as explanations were given.
The specific names of microscope parts were explained and instructions were given on how to use the equipment. The teacher was able to take far more time in pacing her instructions and simplified her explanations by showing examples and giving the students time to try for themselves. The students had an opportunity to ask questions without feeling under pressure. They basically had a mini version of the full lesson that was to follow. They took notes and made diagrams to refer to in their own time. This lesson went for approximately half an hour.
The students who had received the ‘front-loading’ experience of the video-conference became the leaders in their team. They were the first to point to parts of the microscope, they corrected their partner if they adjusted to wrong knobs or placed a glass slide incorrectly. They completed all tasks without copying their partners and some were telling their partners what to write. Some were even quick to raise their hands when the teacher was asking questions about their findings – a huge change!
While the initial intention of the trial was not about using the Polycom unit, it did provide an efficient and effective means to prove that EAL students require a ‘front-loading’ experience to gain the most from a lesson that would normally be difficult for them. This experience has, however, shown the potential of video-conferencing, particularly when needing to tap into the expertise in other schools. It has led to the school to using the video conferencing format for other joint curriculum ventures with Lyndale Secondary College for high achieving maths students in coming years.
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