“I’m a Year 11/13 teacher in a Covid-classroom, get me out of here!!”…

… How can we prepare students for their GCSEs and A levels in a time of remote learning and teaching from the front? – PART ONE

Thanks to Alex Fairlamb (@LambHeartTea) of HA Secondary Committee for this first post of two continuing our series about teaching in a time of Covid. Alex has connected with colleagues across the country to draw together lots of ideas for supporting exam-class students in Covid world.

March 2020 saw a new era in teaching dawn – the rise of blended learning/remote learning and ‘teaching from the front’.  Before March 2020, remote learning was a foreign concept to me and one that I had limited experience of.  I don’t think that I am alone in that. However, there are some institutions and practitioners who prepared well for remote learning, and that’s why I think it’s interesting to look at the wide range of tips from various practitioners in this blog, each with their own unique contexts and varying levels of expertise.

This first blog is dedicated to remote learning. The forthcoming second blog is focused on teaching from the front and how we can use formative assessment effectively to help strengthen prior learning, plan for pupil progress and spot misconceptions. The intention is that both of these aspects will support you in teaching students both in and out of the classroom, as we enter a context of varying ways of learning at different times.  With children in their GCSE and A Level years, I hope that this will be useful in helping to ensure that they can map, master and move forward successfully towards their examinations. Underpinning all of this, you will notice that I use positive language – this is key for students.  We don’t want them to think that they have ‘gaps’ or need to ‘repair’ learning.  What they need to do is identify areas to be strengthened, and go on to do that.

Motivational language

Remote learning

Consider me your beginner/basic level when it comes to remote learning. The tips that I am going to share with you are the tips of someone who started at ground zero, and so I hope this will provide some practical tips and strategies for some of you who were in the same boat.

What have I found works?

  • Greater levels of self-assessment.  I have touched on this more later.
  • Retrieval.  Using remote learning to retrieve key facts two-three times, and then getting them to apply this to transform it into knowledge.
    • Using Google Classroom quizzes
    • Using existing quizzes e.g. Seneca, Hodder Online
    • Our own quizzes, such as Kate Jones’ retrieval grid, brain dumps in text boxes etc.
    • This is embedded at some point within a lesson.  We also feature it within homework tasks, focusing on cumulative revision.
  • Big Picture/Curriculum Journeys. Student friendly big pictures where the students can situate their learning within the wider context and know where they are going in their learning.  These bring to life the sequence of the topic and provides opportunities for you to discuss links (retrieval, next steps) between lessons as well as empowering them to gain a strong overview of the period as a whole.
  • PLCs.  Personalised Learning Checklists.  These empower a student to track their learning, to gauge their progress, and prepare to address key areas that need strengthening.  This enables them to know which areas of their revision they need to dedicate extra time to and also to plan for their next topic.  Metacognition according to the EEF can lead to 5+ months progress.  By engaging the students in proactively planning where they can strengthen learning and creating an action plan, this can give them an important tool to then track their progress as they move forward and evaluate this.
  • Multiple Choice Quizzes using platforms such as Google Classroom.  Automated quizzes that self-mark.  Genius.  Why are they genius?
    • You can create quizzes on key content.  You can put in a multiple choice, common distractors e.g. Who was the first child of Henry VIII?  a) Catherine of Aragon b) Elizabeth I or c) Mary I.  From this, the child is met with common distractors – areas that they might confuse as the right answer.  The hope is that they will select the correct answer (Mary I) but if they don’t, it opens up the pathway to identifying how many might have that misconception and it can empower you to address this at the start of their next lesson.  By discussing the answers and why certain options are wrong, this can help to nail that misconception. 
    • Responsive teaching.  You can identify who has misconceptions and where.  You can identify which topics or questions have the most common misconceptions – so that you know whether to either address it as a starter activity in a lesson, incorporate it into a whole class feedback sheet, or re-teach it.
    • Automated.  They are self-marking – which means reduced workload for teachers.  It provides the students with the correct answers that you have inputted when creating the quiz and you can also put in additional feedback mechanisms such as links to YouTube clips so that they can go on to complete a correction task if they get an answer wrong.
  • Pupil voice.  Asking the students what works for them remotely, and what doesn’t.  I made the mistake of thinking that a revision clock was a good revision tool to set for my students (it works well in classrooms).  However, they fed back it didn’t.  If I hadn’t asked them about what works and doesn’t, I would have blindly continued with a  strategy that wasn’t having the intended impact.
  • Short writing loops/chunking it down.  I found that when I was setting tasks which had a bulk of content followed by something such as creating a mind map, that the students struggled.  That’s because I needed to break down the information into smaller chunks that usual and to ensure that each chunk was followed by a short application task.  I stole this idea from Modern Foreign Languages – they often have short, snappy tasks which require present, practice, produce. I have actually moved to creating worksheets that do similar within lessons, and I then upload them to my Google Classroom.  The similar and consistent format of the worksheet both in class and online means that they are able to access it and have the familiarity of a set format and explanations.
  • Modelling and worked examples.  Lots of modelling and worked examples.  If you are in a school that puts up recorded powerpoints or livestreams lessons, having slides which model using the “I do, we do, you do” format works incredibly well.  Model it and take them through it.  If you want them to deconstruct a source, complete a practice source first.  Provide worked examples so that they know what they are aiming for and talk them through the worked examples – why it is a quality answer, and where improvements can be made and how.
  • High quality feedback.  Feedback is such an important tool, both inside the classroom and remotely. Ensure that the feedback is simple and accessible, includes worked examples/model answers, and clear actions to move forward that not only tell the students what the correction is but also HOW you action that correction and WHAT that should then look like.  Narrated powerpoints work well for this, as well as pupil friendly mark schemes with the content pre-populated.
  • Knowledge organisers.  These I have found are key.  They are a contract of the essential knowledge for a topic.  They are not a silver bullet and they need to be implemented appropriately, with purpose and with student training of  how to use these effectively.  However, when students are learning at home – they can be a useful tool to direct students to for key facts for a particular lesson or to support revision.  Some of my students have said that they are “better than a textbook” and provide a reference tool for them.  It’s also a handy way for parents/carers to quiz their children on their learning.

What are practitioners around the country doing?

Kyle Graham, Head of History (@KTG_1990)

Blended Learning

I am very fortunate to work in a school that has embraced technology on a large scale. All our students have devices, from iPads to iPods, and the possibilities for their use are endless. I am by no means the most capable in learning technology in our school but there are many different apps out there that have made my job easier in recent years. Students are a big fan of quiz based apps such as Kahoot and Quizziz and these have definitely got a place in the classroom when used effectively as a method of AFL during the middle or end of a lesson.

Some students have taken to creating their own versions of these outside of school to aid with revision as well. Indeed, it is in AFL that blended learning, at least from a technological standpoint, has had the greatest impact from my perspective. Students can write on their devices and show me answers, allowing for quick knowledge checks and it is an excellent resource for students to complete extension tasks to build upon the knowledge they have been given.

In terms of literacy there is also great potential here. Students can check spelling using their devices but also can use it as a much more accessible thesaurus. It is always useful to ask students to expand their vocabulary by asking them to substitute out certain low-level words for more complex ones and access to the internet gives them a quick and easy way to do this.

In terms of blended learning and preparation for GCSEs outside of the classroom, nothing has impacted how I deliver this quite like Seneca Learning. A lot of EBacc subjects in our school use the Seneca platform and we have recently upgraded to the Seneca Premium package to try and maximise this further. For those that don’t know, Seneca is a platform that is based on the latest neuroscience by using retrieval practice and interleaving to embed knowledge. We set weekly homework’s for our students using this with the intention that they have to get at least 80% on each test they do. We have found that the students can then use Seneca independently on top of the work we set them as teachers and the students themselves have spoken out about how useful it has been to them.

Tom Pattison, Faculty Director and Subject Leader (@MrPattisonTeach)

Hybrid Lessons

The idea of hybrid can appear daunting but it need not be. As so often with teaching; simplicity is the key. The most common mistake when attempting hybrid teaching is to overcomplicate. Establish your own expectations and temper your ambition. Remember that your greatest responsibility is to those students in the classroom. Focus on delivering a high-quality learning experience for those in the room and the likelihood is you will achieve the same for those attending remotely. Regardless of technology, the key factor in effective learning for your students is you. If you keep that in mind, there is nothing to fear from hybrid teaching.

One aspect that will differ is preparation. It is essential that you familiarise yourself with the format you are using; it is key that you know how to manage what students in the room and at home can see and hear. An advantage of remote learning is that you are in complete control; be clear on your expectations of conduct and if a student is falling short the mute button is a wonderful thing. In addition, ensure all materials that will be used by the students in the room are accessible for remote learners. Google classroom is especially good for this. As a department decide how you want to engage with the remote learners; my advice is not to call upon them to contribute unless you have forewarned them. I have found pre-planning select questions particularly useful; for remote learners, questions can be asked over google classroom at the same time as they are posed to the class. This can help you ascertain engagement and understanding. Sharing an answer from a remote student and bouncing it to a student in the class is an easy and effective way to create a shared experience. However be realistic, limit to three or four questions and if you find this is a step too far out of your comfort zone then save it for when you feel ready. Remember; you are in control. 

A common cause of anxiety is the question of whether to record the lesson. Individual schools should have a policy on this so it may well be out of your hands. Having said that, if you are permitted to record the lesson, particularly for exam groups, it makes sense to do so. The lesson can be shared after the lesson for all learners to gain from and will prove a valuable revision aid going forward. Having said that if you have the option but do not feel comfortable then do not record. Again, you are in control.

End of Part One!

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