Remote Teaching: ‘less is sometimes more’

Before the Autumn Term ended last year, I distinctly remember speaking to a member of staff and within the flow of our conversation, I promoted the merits and benefits of Twitter and encouraged them to sign up and access the resources shared within it. I was a little taken aback by their response.

There is just so much out there. Sometimes, it can be quite overwhelming. I’d rather not have the hassle if I’m honest”.

Sharing resources, interacting with teachers on Twitter and accessing information has no doubt improved my practice. However, as they were answering my point, I could completely see it. There is some absolutely brilliant work out there, and for me, the quantity and the abundance of resources shared by unselfish Twitter users who are ready to help on any issue at any point is wonderful. However, there is a lot. That is clear. How do you know what to access? How do you know what will help best?

As part of my role within school as the Teaching and Learning Lead, I do believe I am a bridge between the research base and classroom teachers and I’ve ensured that part of my role is to communicate and simplify information in a clear, logical and manageable format for staff. They need to know, but how much do they need to know without exploring the information themselves? I have a general rule that, if I am sharing a document with stakeholders, it will be no more than two pages long (one if possible) and that information sharing should not overwhelm or add to existing workload. Within the current situation and the transition to remote teaching, Twitter has exploded with help, support and resources. It’s been brilliant to witness, be a part of and digest. However, it has made me even more conscious of my role as a ‘bridge‘ in school. ‘Less is sometimes more‘ has since become something of a mantra for me.

Recently on Twitter, I shared a document outlining a list of external websites that staff can ‘dip in and out of’ to improve and aid their online teaching. It kind of blew up and I was overwhelmed by the reception and I’m always glad to have a positive impact on so many within the profession and to have helped teachers in a broader sense. However, in my own personal context, so far, I’ve been a little reticent to share the document with staff members at my own school. My rationale? It’s definitely a lot. I had planned to share with staff last week and to frame my language around teachers being able to ‘dip in and dip out’ of the document whenever they pleased and to use it if they are already confident with their online teaching. However, in reality, I wasn’t sure what impact this may have. Is it really worth sending a list of over 20 websites to staff and expect more than a handful to use them? I still don’t know the answer to this problem and I am still working on the best way to translate this information to staff. Because of the new nature of remote teaching, I’ve found staff members haven’t been able to link this period of their development with a prior context to fall back on. Sometimes, ‘look here’s something brand new to use‘ hasn’t had an intended effect of being exciting and fresh but has been overwhelming, especially when it involves technological. While processing this problem, I thought back a few months to when I was sharing information with staff about formative assessment strategies and how I communicated these to staff.

Example: Formative Assessment Strategies

The process below is simplified but I hope the point becomes clear.

When you run a search for a definition of ‘formative assessment’, the first definition that appears is ‘using methods to assess pupils while learning is happening rather than at the end of a topic or scheme of work’. There have been huge debates about this definition within the teaching community, most prominently arguing that we, as teachers, cannot see ‘learning happening’ and instead, a greater definition for formative assessment relates to ‘ongoing checks for understanding‘ and ‘responsive teaching‘. This has been expanded upon by individuals such as Dylan Wilian, David Didau, Tom Sherrington and Doug Lemov in recent years.

I’ve always been very intrigued by the term ‘formative assessment‘ and the strategies we use within the classroom. I’ve very much promoted the idea of ‘responsive teaching‘ being a better choice of language to describe this process. This idea of ‘checks for understanding‘ plays a hugely prominent role within my CPD planning and sessions. There has been a lot written in recent weeks about how the ideas and strategies of formative assessment or responsive teaching have transitioned to remote teaching. I have written some of my thoughts, with potential strategies, below in the hope of outlining this mantra of ‘less is sometimes more‘ further.

Before approaching this subject with staff, I broadly outlined a set of guidelines to myself:

  1. Ensure that any document shared falls within the maximum two page limit.
  2. Communicate with stakeholders in more ways than simply an email.
  3. Accompany information with recorded videos explicitly modelling the process.
  4. Speak to departments and teachers ‘on the ground’ throughout the process as a way to adapt anything but also help with impact.
  5. Utilise sessions or existing meetings for training to ensure staff members are explicit in the rationale and use.

Therefore, I decided to frame my approach around simply 10 Formative Assessment Strategies that I believed could be beneficial within remote teaching (there is clearly a lot more that exist). This document was written at the start of January before the Spring Term had commenced.

I was conscious that this wasn’t simply an ‘information document’ but a set of strategies that I wanted staff to use when teaching online. I therefore ensured that I consulted staff and students throughout this process. Alongside each strategy, I explained how it could be used and recorded short explanation videos for staff to watch. I then ensured they had time to digest these and that the information was readily shared and filtered throughout the school. Within the process, and for clarity again, I decided to simplify the list above even further into five key approaches that I believed were manageable and could be implemented straight away into teaching methods.

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This is still an ongoing process but, at this stage, I am confident that staff members within our school are informed and knowledgeable about the points above and that they are being used.

As stated, there has been an abundance of strategies and resources that have been shared in recent weeks. I cannot promote the idea of sharing practice online enough. However, I think we, as practitioners, need to be careful that despite this wealth of information, we are still selective in the approaches we adopt and that these approaches are given time to prosper and become embedded within our practice. Despite the positives of each approach, is it hugely beneficial to be switching from one idea to the next without any plan to measure impact? In a remote sense, could this negatively impact our teaching? What will realistically work for me and my classes? How many strategies or external websites will I utilise? Will this be within the flow of a lesson or as a ‘separate’ external resource? How will this impact my workload? Will this idea be confusing? How will I communicate it? What is ‘effective teaching’? These are all questions we constantly grapple with.

For me, we need to ensure that a school environment is fostered that is not judgmental to staff who decide not to utilise the latest online resource that has been shared. Effective teaching doesn’t need to be all singing and all dancing, especially remotely. It can be simple in its intent and structure. What does empowering staff to do their job to the best of their ability actually mean? Should we select and then simply focus on one thing at a time?

Less is sometimes more and that’s okay.

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