When the second lockdown started in April 2021, the Ministry of Education and Sports, with support from Australia, was preparing the writing of the new Grade 4 English textbooks and teacher guides for the school year 2022-23.
The Grade 4 curriculum writing team is composed of three writers from the Research Institute for Educational Sciences (RIES), National University of Laos and Sathit primary school and is supported by technical advisors from the Australian funded BEQUAL program. The development of teaching and learning materials is a very collaborative process; the lessons are created during workshops where the writers jointly plan and share ideas while producing the materials. With the lockdown, the writers had to find new ways to work collaboratively using online tools to follow COVID-19 prevention measures.
Ms. Manoly Dongvan, English curriculum team leader from RIES says “Working online kept us moving forward in this challenging COVID situation. We could continue working properly according to our plan and stay safe at the same time. It taught us this new way of working with technology that will be very useful in the future. It also gave us the opportunity to exchange ideas and help each other to write – we were able to participate not only in our own lessons but also in other writers’ lessons.”
In a face-to-face format, the team would usually plan out each lesson and design the textbook pages together. Then they would work individually to write the detailed lessons and instructions for the Teacher Guide. The writers used to specialize in writing different lessons, e.g. one writer focused on the vocabulary lesson, one writer focused on the grammar lesson, etc. In the online format, they found it was better to work in a more collaborative way on the Teacher Guide content.
“This new way of working resulted being very beneficial. The writers had a better overview of all the content of the lessons in Grade 4. Previously, they did not get this because they worked on the lessons individually. Having an overview of all the content was very fruitful for the planning process – in terms of what to include next, which activity types to include, how to develop progression, what vocabulary or language to recycle, etc. This more collaborative approach also meant the writers gained experience developing a broader range of lesson types. We are also writing the new Grade 4 Lao Language and Sciences and Environment through online workshops with technical and financial support from the Australian Government” explains Ms. Sengngeune Wayakone, Director of the Curriculum Development Center, RIES.
“With this higher level of collaboration, the team came up with better ideas and solutions to challenges we faced writing the curriculum” says Ms. Chanthajorn Chanthapanya, Grade 4 curriculum writer and lecturer at National University of Laos.
Mr. Phonesavanh Hongsomboun, Grade 4 curriculum writer and teacher at Sathit primary school adds “One of the biggest challenges was that in a face-to-face format, it is much easier to demonstrate or try out activities that we are thinking of including in a lesson. But in an online format this is much more challenging, so we had to find new ways of explaining our ideas to each other. In a face-to-face format, we are all in the same room, we have a white board, we have resources, we can see each other. In an online format, the only visual support for mapping out our ideas is the screen share option on the video call so this can be challenging. The workshop facilitator from BEQUAL helped recording all of our ideas in digital documents so we could follow along on the screen.”
The team is very proud of the results as the English Grade 4 materials are now in the layout stage to be designed with colourful gender balanced and inclusive imagery. The team is also discussing how this collaborative online experience could inform the writing process for Grade 5.