We have entered another period of remote learning. We are better prepared for this one even though we had even less notice than the first lockdown. The government has published expectations about what constitutes good home learning. Understandably there is a lot of stress and anxiety around how we can deliver these expectations.
Managing expectations - humanity
Whilst the expectations are generally fair we need to interpret them with a degree of humanity. The idea that parents can complain directly to OFSTED about the quality of remote education is a particular concern. The vast majority of parents are great, recognising the difficult circumstances that we are working under. They know that there will be times when teachers are ill, when staff’s own children take priority, where technology lets us down, where we try something new that just doesn’t work. There are going to be slips and there are going to be circumstances, it is important that we manage expectations.
Most parents and external observers are able to respect teacher's pedagogical decisions but I worry about that small minority who become convinced they are expects in education because well - they went to school once. Also threatening people with a regulator when all of us are in the middle of managing a pandemic is just plain poor form. We are all doing our best but that said the expectations on the whole are fair
Learning from lockdown 1
Looking back with interest over things I wrote during our first experience of remote teaching I think a number of things remain. The importance of care, communication and connection go without saying. As we go forward we will need to revive our welfare calls where students go quiet and perhaps do some team building via our Humanities quizzes.
As we have entered the second period of lockdown as an institution we have been able to more or less do live lessons and stick to the college timetable. This has significantly increased engagement. In lockdown 1 the students who did not 'attend' live sessions but indicated they would do the work at a later date, often did not. Moving to an expectation of live attendance - but allowing local prior arrangements with individual students - has been the way for us to go.
As we go forward there are a number of things that struck me when scanning through the guidance - the terms that stood out are consistency/routines, curriculum, resources, explanations interaction, assessment and feedback. Mostly things that we already do or are moving to do.
Routines - for me a key starting point is to ask what would I have done in class and then aim to get as close to that as I can. Students are familiar with Google Classroom and Socrative etc. They are used to packs of notes (electronic or paper), submitting their own notes for checking at the end of topics and recall quizzes on past topics. Very little of this has changed and if anything online lessons have become even more predictable: a little bit of chat asking how people are, a review of the previous lesson perhaps with the quiz, an explanation with the opportunity for students to ask and answer questions in the chat, a period where students work independently for a set time, a review of the work done.
Curriculum - the main headache of the weekend before term and then the evening after lockdown was announced was the rejigging or curriculum. Some topics are easier than others if, as is likely, we are going to be working this way for a while. So decisions about what to deliver now, what to put into the summer term when God willing we will be face to face - and a schedule for recapping past topics each week. New plans have been shared and explained to students.
Resources - students have quality resources for each topic that we have scanned in at some point or created. The beauty of having spent now nearly 5 years with Google Drive as our main storage is that by and large everything is electronic. We encouraged students to purchase their own copies of revision guides early in the Autumn term and got free copies for our bursary students. We thought it wise to be prepared...
One thing that I am noticing is however that if I am using ppt or posting instructions in classroom, there needs to be more detail than when face to face. What is clear to you may not be clear to them!
Explanations - Although lessons are 'live' it is possible that students may miss key parts of the explanation due to connectivity issues or even needing to collect a parcel that has just been delivered. This is where a pre-recorded video, recording that particular part of the lesson or a ppt with audio voiceover may actually be more effective. In the last day or two I have begun to record some of the key sections of google meets where I am giving explanations so that students have it to see again. Equally if there is a perfectly good video online, there is absolutely no need to reinvent the wheel and I don't think the government guidance demands that we should.
Interaction - One of the difficulties of working with older students is that they can be quite passive online. We encourage interaction by asking questions that they can respond to in the chat, have individuals unmute and we have had some lively philosophical discussions. But it is not easy - the default is often silence. Directed questions are still possible but you feel that it takes an age for a typed answer to come. I have Google forms and Socrative to ensure that all are participating or offering answers where this is needed.
We have begun to use breakout rooms. The need for interaction is not just educational, it’s actually social and student value the opportunity to interact with each other as well as staff. At the risk of raising a banned word it is nice to have a little 'banter' with the students and make the most of situations such as a dog landing on a student's keyboard and accidentally typing a full stop in the chat.
Assessment - in terms of assessments the schedule of submitting essays or notes continues. Students work in different ways and photos of handwritten work is acceptable along with typed work. In terms of assessment for learning, again Socrative has been my to go to tool allowing both multiple-choice quizzes as a quick check up on a past topic or allowing more open short answer questions to check that students have understood what has happened in the previous lesson.
Perhaps the most exciting thing I have done in the past week actually isn't that exciting. The creation of scaffolded note making frameworks or retrieval boxes to go into Google classroom, one copy per student enables me to look at students work live in the same way as if I were looking over their shoulder in class. That one thing has been my takeaway from the first week working remotely
Feedback - in terms of feedback to students we have not greatly modified our plans. We continue to do whole class feedback and use of the iPad to convert speech to text which is then emailed to students began last term in an attempt to keep some social distance. I believe a number of colleagues have also used something called 'Mote' to add voice notes to Google classroom. Because the feedback and interaction with students is important it has also been possible from time to time to have a lesson where the group is working through tasks and each of the students is spoken to one-to-one using Google meet. Having a lesson like this every 3-4 weeks will probably be my only break from the predictable routine
Teaching remotely is certainly not easy but if I have learned one thing from the last 9 months is that we will get on and cope with whatever is thrown at us. Stay safe everyone.