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Blog: Virtual Coaching in the Early Grade Reading Study (Mpumalanga)

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Dr Lorraine Marneweck,Ms Gina Ermacora

Posted 5 months ago

This Blog was written Dr Lorraine Marneweck, Programme Director and Ms Gina Ermacora, Virtual Coach from ClassAct in June 2020. It is relevant to the EduCOVID TIG as much of our work is becoming virtual.


It provides hints on how the Early Grade Reading Study intervention was conducted in Mpumalanga on behalf of the Department of Basic Education. For more information on the EGRS click: here  and for a readable summary click: here

Teachers in this intervention were given tablets pre-loaded with lesson plans, supporting materials, video and audio tutorials and motivational clips. In addition, they had constant access to a virtual coach, who communicated with teachers via technology. The virtual coach had a significant part to play in this intervention.

The virtual coach was trained in the principles and practices of the FUEL and GROW models of coaching and on the EGRS EFAL programme along with the instructional coaches. The virtual coach was also trained on how to make short video clips in response to more complex issues, which were then sent to teachers via WhatsApp.

The virtual coach implemented the following pre-arranged routine when providing electronic teacher support:

  • Established WhatsApp groups for teachers and another one for SMTs. Teachers and SMTs were encouraged to use these groups to ask and answer questions, to share experiences and to motivate each other.
  • Sent out regular bulk SMSs as weekly reminders of where teachers should be in the programme, together with a motivational message and teaching tips.
  • Principals also received weekly SMSs, reminding them of where teachers should be in the programme, and encouraging them to support and monitor teachers using the tool provided.
  • Received feedback from the EGRS App on curriculum coverage and usage.
  • Analysed more complex challenges reported by teachers, and then, together with the Materials Development Team, sourced or created a video shared via WhatsApp.
  • Held one-on-one virtual coaching sessions with individual teachers via WhatsApp. These sessions focused on the key issues covered in each training session and were aimed at: a) Establishing the teacher’s level of proficiency and engagement through data analysis and questioning b) Praising the teacher for evident strengths and efforts made c) Identifying challenges and addressing them through text conversation d) Sending short video clips or voice clips to address challenges via WhatsApp e) Documenting the outcome of the coaching sessions in a data base.
  • Ran fortnightly competitions for teachers to showcase teaching and learning successes

Lessons Learnt about Virtual Coaching

  • A combination of virtual coaching and instructional coaching is preferable. Many of the lessons learnt about instructional coaching apply to virtual coaching. And in many instances, instructional coaching already had virtual and electronic components.
  •  Certain instructional coaching elements are difficult to replicate in virtual coaching. These include relationship building, communication and evaluation of teacher progress in the classroom context.
  • Electronic reminders work as curriculum pace setters. Sending teachers weekly reminders helps keep them on track with curriculum coverage.
  • Dosage intensity changes over the course of a term for virtual coaching. High levels of coaching dosage are required at the start of each term to ensure that the virtual coach understands the development needs of all teachers. Thereafter the virtual coach is in a position to provide differentiated coaching based on needs. This includes the circulation of weekly phonics video clips and fortnightly competitions that provide some classroom-based insights.
  • Localised technology support for schools and teachers is important. This is difficult to source in more rural schools and therefore can place these teachers at a disadvantage. In order to fill this void, virtual coaches also need to be skilled at basic tablet maintenance and filmmaking.

For further information contact:

Programme Lead: Dr Lorraine Marneweck [email protected]

Virtual Coach: Ms Gina Ermacora [email protected]


For more information on FUEL method click: here

For more information on GROW method click : here

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