I’ve blogged under this title before but on this occasion, my perspective is slightly different. Who knew that I, and Bananarama, were leading you all astray! In the current world of remote learning, we need to ensure that the ‘craft of teaching’ isn’t lost. ICT is, and always has been, just a tool to support learning, albeit a very necessary one at the moment, but we must ensure that our teachers don’t get so caught up in the ‘mode’ of delivery that they neglect the ‘how’ and ‘what’.
I have reflected fondly, and somewhat frustratedly, on some of the amazing practice that my team in Barnsley established almost 7 years ago, blogging that supported ‘flipped learning’ and the extensive use of asynchronous lesson tools such as Explain Everything, Show Me, Padlet, Audioboo, Voice Thread and Thinglink. However, as the wheel of educational fashion turned, some of this great practice was lost. The practice was powerful for two reasons: it connected the school to its children and parents at home in a very real and purposeful way, providing a ‘window’ into classrooms, and secondly, its use was grounded in strong pedagogy.
So when thinking about remote learning, the ‘mode’ of delivery is significantly less important. It doesn’t matter if you are using Microsoft Teams, Google Classroom, Dojo, Seesaw, or any of the other many platforms out there, what matters is the ‘how’ and ‘what’.
Live or Recorded:
There is some emerging evidence that live lessons are more effective, however, the evidence base is currently limited. What we can be sure of is that a well delivered and planned recorded lesson is probably significantly more effective than a poorly planned and delivered live lesson.
Some of the benefits of live lessons are the increased connection in real-time with children. This allows them to feel connected to their teacher and peers and offers an opportunity for teachers to ‘read’ the online room, improve children’s sense of accountability, provide the opportunity for checking for understanding and give support and feedback in a timely manner. However, they do offer additional logistical issues and often cause teachers more anxiety.
Conversely, recorded lessons give teachers more control over the final product and give some flexibility to children (and parents) about when they learn. This may be a particular consideration in some schools where they know that families have limited access to digital devices.
Both have benefits: in the most effective schools, leaders have developed a synergistic model, exploiting the benefits of both types of learning and have a clear rationale for their model.
Engagement and Motivation:
One of the very real challenges of learning, remote or otherwise, is maintaining children’s engagement and motivation, particularly when learning becomes hard. This challenge is amplified when we switch to remote learning. I love the phrase ‘Dissolve the Screen’ that is used in the Doug Lemov book, ‘Teaching in the Online Classroom’. How do we engage and motivate children virtually, making them feel both accountable and connected?
This is where we need to remember our craft! Too often we see the online environment as one that is passive. How many webinars have you been on recently when you just sat and listened, casually sending the odd text or browsing the internet to try and secure an online Tesco delivery slot? You need to set the tone of the lesson so for example, within 5 minutes make sure you have built-in an opportunity for participation – sharp starts! In the classroom, we ensure ‘no opt out’ using well-honed strategies such as ‘paired talk’, ‘cold calling’, ‘show me’. These can easily be adapted for use in the virtual world but they need to be planned for. Consider using the chat function to support peer to peer interaction; ensure children have access to a mini whiteboard and pen at home as well as a digital device, use ‘cold calling’ throughout the lesson. It keeps them accountable but also ensures they know you know they are there!
Of course, there are lots of ways of doing all of the above that are more sophisticated, using a variety of tools that are out there, but my advice would be to keep it simple until you have confidently embedded the above into your repertoire.
You also need to consider the length of lessons and how you chunk up activities; ‘screen fatigue’ is a very real thing. Make sure you consider this as you plan. How can you deliver some input and then move children away from the screen for their independent activity? Remember just because children are receiving teacher instruction via a digital device, this does not mean they have to do their own independent work this way, in fact, there are many benefits to not doing this, for example, building writing stamina and motor skills using a pencil and paper, using manipulatives in maths.
Our children also need to know we care: from the many children and families I have spoken to over the years, the biggest single thing we can do is listen to them, thank them, acknowledge them. There is nothing that stops this translating into the current world. I love hearing about schools that have a daily class ‘form time’ where they can simply ‘check-in’, commenting on Maisie’s lovely plaits, Henry’s new t-shirt, or have some football banter with Ed who is mourning another Liverpool defeat! Make sure you still use praise and acknowledgment; keep up your celebration assemblies; write to your parents and thank them for the support. Some great practice has been popping up on my Twitter feed: schools offering virtual coffee mornings and drop-in sessions for parents.
Displaying and celebrating children’s work is another way of ‘dissolving the screen’. Think about how you can use your website, social media, blogs, and tools like Animoto or iMovie to showcase great learning.
In the words of Maya Angelou “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Assessment for Learning
The work of Dylan Wiliam never gets old or less relevant. The five key strategies:
These strategies are as relevant remotely as they are when we have children in front of us. Teachers still need to be clear about and communicate what they want children to learn and what they will be able to do or know if they have been successful. This can be shared on screen, deconstructed critiquing of an example, or by sharing a WAGOLL in the same way as it can be in the classroom. Rubrics, checklists, and examples can be left on display when children move away from their screen to do their independent tasks.
Similarly, we can ensure that we ‘check for understanding’ and provide effective feedback for children relatively easily if we are delivering a live lesson, asking for responses using chat, polls, and quizzes, or ‘show me’. Making sure teachers plan for these at key ‘pause points’ is critical.
Developing ‘peer discussion’ to support learning is more of a challenge remotely: some teachers have used ‘break out rooms’ effectively but again the chat function can provide some connectivity. What is key is that teachers revisit the key principles of AfL and consider how they can adapt their ‘in class’ approach to the ‘virtual’ classroom.
I think that the biggest challenge facing all school leaders and teachers currently is what to teach. Many of the children in our care will have missed over 9 months of face to face teaching by the time we fully return to our classrooms. It would be foolish to think there won’t be gaps in their learning. We also know that more complex curriculum content is difficult to teach online and that there are inconsistencies in the access and support children have when engaging in online learning.
Nobody wants to narrow the curriculum offer but common sense tells us that trying to deliver invasion games with no equipment or anyone to interact with wouldn’t be advisable. Likewise, art lessons that require specific resources may well be a challenge. Similarly, skills are well suited to consistent, deliberate practice, for example, times table recall. Other aspects of the curriculum that can be delivered effectively will help us ‘catch up’ quicker when children return, so whilst modeling and scaffolding writing might be less effective remotely, if we have exposed children to rich vocabulary or sound grammar instruction, these skills can be mastered and brought back to the classroom, enabling them to focus on the composition of writing.
We need to ensure that as school leaders we don’t become deafened by the ‘white noise’ of the lack of devices, preferred tools, and platforms and pause to consider our ‘how’ and ‘what’: it ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it – is not completely true!