I’ve decided to take my own advice in this post.
Depending on your viewpoint, next week we will be emerging from the shadows of remote teaching to the spring of classroom-based practice. However, I believe it is too simplistic to treat both of these entities as entirely separate and not interconnected. As I’ve stated in previous posts, the principles of ‘excellent teaching’ in a remote setting are also the principles of ‘excellent teaching’ in the classroom, it is just we may prioritise certain areas or certain parts at different points. Therefore, before the 8th March, I think it’s of vital importance to reflect and think about what we have learnt and gained from this period of remote teaching and what it has done to potentially improve and develop our practice. What also has a place in the classroom? What can be used to help bridge the gap? Where are our gaps as teachers?
Back in February, I shared my school’s Remote Learning Offer and the approach we have taken for online lessons. We identified three cornerstones of remote lessons:
- Instructions and Explanations
- Tasks and Student Practice
This was incorporated into a wider framework below:
I am going to use the above numbered points as a guide to reflect upon this period and what we have learnt that can impact our classroom practice and be used in the future. This is self-reflective and also linked to my own context and discussions with staff at school. Some points are general then.
- Instructions and Explanations
From the outset, we wanted our lines of communication to be crystal clear. This was both from a top-down level but also with the relationship between teachers and students. We asked staff to communicate to students their plan of action using the following student-friendly proforma. We felt this helped to ensure the taught curriculum was well-planned and well-sequenced and that this was understood by all stakeholders. How can this be communicated now?
One particular powerful part of remote teaching, has been the use of a ‘holding’ or ‘launch’ slide which included clear instructions about the start of the lesson and what students needed to access the lesson. Although always important, due to the nature of remote teaching, I believe the clarity of our instructions has been a clear focus for the profession and ensuring our slides are clear, structured and simple to understand has been a constant target of mine. What actually needs to be here? What can I remove or leave out? What does a title slide look like in the classroom now?
Alongside this, there has been a clear understanding of the purpose of a lesson, sequencing and the core knowledge that teachers want to transmit and communicate to students and this has ensured that the ‘fluff’ around the lesson has been cut down or removed. A numbered style approach for instructions can also benefit SEND students. How will this core knowledge be shared with students? How will I know they have understood it? The use of a knowledge takeaways slide has been really powerful here.
Furthermore, one further area of focus has been the clarity of explanations and modelling. Without a physical whiteboard, teachers have found different methods to explain and model and I believe the clarity of our voice and what we relay to students has been vital here. What do we actually need to say at any given time? How do we check on pupils? For me, live virtual modelling has been a particular success. Being able to use collaborative PowerPoints or Word Document and to break down concepts and live model exam questions online has been a great help and support (especially as I’ve never had a visualiser before).
I also think our planning of the structure of our lessons has been more streamlined. I’ve found teachers have become used to a set routine of remote teaching from short retrieval activities to an explanation of the lesson focus to the presentation of new material and student practice to a knowledge plenary at the end of the lesson. I think remote teaching has helped to simplify an approach and has helped us to see that ‘less is sometimes more’.
Alongside this, teachers also now have a bank of videos or tutorials that they have filmed explaining concepts and ideas that can be shared with classes in the future. This will no doubt aid workload.
- Tasks and Student Practice
The relationship between independent practice and teacher-led instruction has been very interesting with remote teaching. In some ways, due to the demands of teaching remotely and looking at a laptop screen throughout the day, has meant that independent tasks or opportunities for student practice have been promoted. At school, we framed this as high teacher intensity and low teacher intensity. However, within this, retrieval practice, formative assessment and responsive teaching has been absolutely vital to gauge levels of whole class understanding and to aid future planning and teaching. I really agree with the view of @miss_slater_ here.
This period has been a real eye-opener in terms of the technology that exists from Mentimeter to Microsoft Forms and expanding our arsenal of retrieval or ‘Do Now’ activities. I do not believe these will go away. I strongly believe that ‘teaching to gaps means we are teaching well‘ and this will be a huge focus upon our return but we needed to be careful with our language here and our approach to diagnostic assessment. This has to be embedded within the curriculum and not a standalone and short task at the start or end of a lesson. I think there has also been a greater awareness of scaffolding and what is needed within pupil tasks for them to succeed, especially without our presence in the room. This has also impacted the amount of time we give students to complete a certain set of tasks.
Due to the nature of remote teaching and the use of technology, I decided to use part of my revision cycle with Year 13 to allow student-led presentations. I wrote about my reflections in this thread and this post for We are in Beta that can be found here but it really illuminated to me the importance of teacher subject knowledge, signposting our presentations, linking prior knowledge and information across a course and pre-empting our questioning.
Feedback, I believe, is one of the real successes of Microsoft Teams. The ease of marking written pieces or assessments has been aided, as has the online and self-marking quizzing tools. Even though, I believe we have to be careful here about what we require from staff around online feedback (this post from Mark Enser is brilliant on this), the functions within Teams has helped with aiding workload and ensuring clear and targeted feedback. This has also helped with ‘live time’ feedback in that as pupils are completing a task, we can mark online and after gaining a sense of misconceptions and issues (as well as praise areas), we can stop the class and communicate these to them straight away. I also believe that teachers are more knowledgeable and aware of a focus on pre-empting and misconceptions and acting upon these. As a school, our shared language has grown. Audio feedback is another area that can real significance moving forward.
As a school, we have also taken this opportunity to push and promote the use of Whole Class Feedback using the below proforma. This is something we will work on further as we return to school.
I believe all teachers and schools need to have a period of reflection this week about remote teaching and how this will aid any transition back into school and the classroom. I will be sharing a ‘Teaching and Learning Reminders’ document with staff this week which will ensure that we are all on the same page and focusing on certain priorities. A huge thank you here to Alex Fairlamb for her work and all credit to her for the shared language slide and the ‘Map, Master, Move’ template. The ‘Teaching and Learning Reminders’ document can be found and downloaded here. We have found real benefits in breaking down this period into short and small acronyms to aid staff understanding and to increase awareness. The focus on the 5 R’s is an example of this. We are hosting a school-wide CPD based around a reflection of what has worked well in remote teaching and what can be used in the future.
Lastly, we’ve also seen the rise of the bitmoji. But I won’t say anything else about that.