Reflecting on … supporting my students remotely

For an indeterminate amount of time, we are going to have to support students’ learning remotely as best we are able.  Were this a good way for them to learn we would, of course, do this far more as part of our normal practice.  The gap in achievement between PA students and those in school would also be much smaller.  However we know that remote learning cannot replace the classroom experience.  The dialogue, constant feedback that teachers get from reading faces and body language, circulating the room and asking questions are all missing or much-reduced.  We rely considerably more on students asking questions and effectively making their own “hinge” decisions, which we know many will struggle to do.  However research does give us some guidance as to how to make the best of this situation and some particular pitfalls to avoid over the coming weeks.  These are the principles I intend to follow in working with my classes:

 

 

  • The “Matthew Effect”

(Matthew 12.29:  “For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.”)

The Matthew Effect applies to lots of things in life and is best paraphrased as “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer”.  This is a particular concern of remote learning.  We know that some of our students will be diligent in logging on, completing the work and submitting it for feedback.  This may be from their own motivation, but in a lot of cases it will be because of the structures and support around them.  Some of our students will lack that support and drive; perhaps they have never had it, or they have parents working or struggling with sick relatives and so it is not available at this moment.  For those, the gap in learning may grow dramatically.  This in itself is a good reason to minimise new and overly challenging content delivery.  As a result I plan to:

  1. Maintain a careful track of students who are engaged with the learning and those who do not seem to be managing it. There may be little I can do at this stage to address it, but when students are back in school we can plan careful support and interventions for those who have fallen behind.
  2. Make efforts to reach out to families, by email or ‘phone where work is not happening. This will remind them that we’re still working and on hand to offer support (even remotely) and encourage them to engage with the work.  We know that children work less well when no-one is looking – it may help them to be reminded that we are looking and do care.

 

  • Feedback

AfL is one of the most important things we do, still rates as the highest impact strategy in the EEF’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit.  But many of the tools we need to make this work are being stripped away: students won’t be in front of us to produce work, we cannot run question-and-answer sessions and we cannot chase missing “homework”.  However we can mark work which is sent to us and we can do our best to give all students useful feedback.  Therefore I have told my students that I will:

  1. Use live marking and chat facilities on Google to engage with them whilst they are learning.  When we know what the situation is with key workers I will publish a timetable of my availability so that they do know how they can get hold of me for question-and-answer sessions and interaction through documents if needed.
  2. Do everything I can to encourage submission of work and give prompt feedback. They are lacking the live, “instant” feedback of the classroom but I have time and space to return work as quickly as possible to help support them.
  3. Post regular models of marked work with feedback on line: I can anonymise examples of work or produce my own so that those students who have not completed tasks or are struggling can still engage with models, corrections and common misconceptions I am seeing.
  4. Design and create regular quizzes of short answer/multiple-choice questions for SMHW. These are easy to mark, will guide me on what work to set and give me a quick shapshot of engagement whenever I want.  They will also be useful homework activities for the future, so will reduce my workload when students do return.

 

  • Students will struggle to master new content.

Learning new content can be incredibly difficult for students. We all know they bring all sorts of misconceptions and preconceptions to their learning that we carefully plan for in lessons, and probe for in our questioning and discussions.   The power of their pre-existing ideas (even if erroneous) can distort new information leading to further misunderstanding.  With this in mind I intend to:

  1. Minimise the amount of new content I deliver to students remotely.
  2. Replan and rewrite resources with remote learning in mind wherever I do try to deliver material. I know that if I just “send out” the material I would have used in lessons it will lack all the explanation and clarify I would have offered.
  3. Carefully select which topics I deliver: even if out-of-order I know there are certain topics that students will be able to understand and which lead to fewer misconceptions than others.  I will therefore “pick” these out of the curriculum to deliver remotely and start planning how to knit together the bigger picture when students return.
  4. Add a range of instructional methods to my resources that students can access: g. carefully produce or select some text, identify a good video, look for a website that covers the material as well.  That way if they struggle to comprehend one way they can look to a range of sources.

 

  • The most effective independent study involves students reviewing and recalling material or practising skills.

 

This is the principle upon which we set homework and we have regularly commented on how much students have to learn for the new GCSEs.  Rather than too much new content I intend to:

  1. Focus on revision and retention of powerful knowledge (Key Stage 3) and material already covered (KS4 and 5).
  2. Use extensive knowledge testing and revision guidance to ensure that this is thoroughly embedded and that students have a strong mastery.
  3. To promote engagement give extension work that builds on this, with new reading, case studies and resources, in favour of brand new content. This will give students the chance to extend their thinking and build their expertise without creating and unbridgeable content “gap” with those struggling to work online.
  4. Produce and carefully model skills for students so that they can practice these at home. Some teachers are already well ahead of me in terms of producing and sharing short skills videos with their students as a form of modelling … now it is my goal to master this technology and start to deliver it to my students.  Again, these will also be an investment in future learning.

 

There is no way that we can pretend learning over the next few months will be anything like normal.  When the students return there will be gaps between groups of students like very little we have previously seen.  We will have to do a lot of careful thinking about how to deliver the rest of the curriculum and transfer all the powerful knowledge we would have been teaching students over the next few weeks to other points in the curriculum.  But the research does offer us some guidance that can help us do our best to meet our students’ needs.

 

As I plan work, I will be asking myself the following questions to help me refine the activities as best I can:

  • Will the students be able to master this material: what support would they have needed in class and have I adjusted for that as remote learning?
  • How will I know if the students who have tried this have struggled, even if they don’t directly tell me? How will I assess this remotely and encourage and motivate them if they have found it hard?
  • What is the plan to pick up on this with the students who do not access it? How will I support them on their return to school?

As we work over the next few weeks I intend to review my practice as I go and revise and edit this piece.  A lot of this is new to all of us.  At the moment this is new – we have only our intuition (honed by our experience) and the research to guide us.  But all research is context dependent … we know our students and are going to learn a lot more in coming weeks.  Please do share things you find to work well, or things you find not to work with me as we go, so that I can pool our collective wisdom. 

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