From the virtual classroom to the physical one – what have we learnt and what can we take forward?

In this post the T and L team continue to reflect upon the developments in their teaching since transferring to remote learning. Although initially daunting, some of the techniques for online teaching that we were once cautious about have now become cornerstones of our daily practice. Likewise, strategies that once seemed alien are now proving very effective in enhancing pupil learning.

Are some of the lessons learnt and the techniques we have tried and tested things we now can’t imagine doing without? To what extent can this period of ‘upskilling’ in Ed-tech continue to benefit us and our pupils in the future?

Each of us has picked three of the things we have learnt over the past two months that we would like to take forward as we return to the classroom in future.
Julie Summers says:

1. Giving feedback through Teams:

Now I am familiar with the system of setting work through Assignments on Teams and I have ‘trained’ my classes to submit it this way I am a convert. Teams is set up to enable the ‘feedback loop’ which I know is established best practice to enable pupil progress. Paper can get messy, especially when it is handed in, annotated with feedback, corrected by the pupil, and finally re-submitted for checking. And yet this ‘cycle’ or ‘loop’ of feedback, pupil reflection and action upon feedback is universally acknowledged in educational research literature to be the most effective way of ensuring pupil development. When I have tried this out in class pupils often miss out on a step in the feedback loop due to a missed lesson, absence when books were returned, forgetting to hand in a piece of work or numerous other problems. The electronic method of submitting, feeding back and re-drafting makes the process smooth and efficient with the assignment function on Teams. Moreover work can’t fall out of a file or blow away outside on the way to class meaning your precious feedback can’t be lost!
2. Apps for independent learning:

Many of us have been exploring the plethora of apps that supposedly encourage the Holy Grail of independent learning. It is only since starting remote teaching that I have fully appreciated how such apps can help pupils to take responsibility for their own learning. Inspired by the MYP’s Approaches to Learning (ATL) which I have been diligently incorporating into my Second Form unit plans I chose to focus on organisational skills and decided on ‘select and use technology effectively and productively’ as a skill I would teach explicitly this term. Pupils like apps but don’t always know how to make best use of them. However, showing pupils how to make the best use of apps such as Quizlet and setting revision for vocab tests in this way has proved to be both popular and effective. I have asked pupils to experiment with similar apps and choose the one they felt worked best for them and for MFL. By setting aside lesson/prep time to allow pupils to explore and experiment we set them up with an independent learning facility that they can use throughout their school career.

3. Apps for Assessment for Learning (AfL):

I’m not one for flashy gimmicks or even someone who usually experiments with the latest technology. I have however been forced out of my comfort zone and am appreciating the benefits of certain apps for teaching purposes. Many replicate what we can already do very simply in the classroom but for variety and pupil engagement I will certainly be using more of these in my lessons next year. I particularly like the range of different kinds of feedback you can get through different channels on different platforms (Polly, Microsoft forms, Kahoot, etc). In the future I doubt I will be so totally reliant on mini-whiteboards in the physical classroom for instant feedback on pupil comprehension.

Joe Sanders writes:

1. Feedback:

The areas of T and L that I am most likely to incorporate into my practice post-lockdown are all linked to the primary issue of feedback. If we do not place our interactions with student work as our primary concern each day other strategies become quite pointless.
Feedback has both stayed the same and changed irrevocably with distance learning. So, whilst I am staying true to using my (digital) pen, I am also utilising recording through Teams Assignments to narrate my students through their feedback, and uploading student work to share with my class with the click of a button. The re-drafting process that is built into our Learning Management System adds more value to our feedback than ever before, as students become increasingly accustomed to revisiting work post-submission. I have encouraged this feedback cycle by not providing grades on any ‘first drafts’ of work. The ability for teachers to generate tailored feedback that enables them to be more ‘present’ for their students is one that I will stay true to once we are back in the classroom.

2. Student collaboration:

As we have discussed in our Distance T&L Clinics, collaboration has many benefits, ranging from a more secure understanding of subject content, to a greater feeling of community and socialisation when students really need it. Strangely enough, the remoteness of learning over the last two months has made some students more willing to contribute verbally and work together in lessons. Teachers can harness this as we move towards Blended Learning by getting into routines of collaboration, such as selecting part of their work to be shared as a model answer during peer-assessment, public praise on Teams, and thoughtful differentiation of groups within Channels. I have found that some of the groups who were previously unable to restrain themselves from silliness now work together as self-regulated, mature, learners. I have done public votes of ‘best answer’ and ‘best peer-assessor’ that illicit kind student-to-student responses. The FOSIL inquiry debates that Form 6 are currently working on have generated some of the best participation I have ever witnessed from my students – confident participants, well-researched lines of argument, and respectful habits towards one another. The collaborative habits that Teams has engendered mean that I will be following a similar pattern again once we are back in the physical classroom.

3. Apps that actually assist Teaching and Learning:

Contrary to many of my colleagues, I’m a menace for teaching fads, spending far too long inserting them into my lessons, only to find they’re not quite right after all! This period of Distance Learning has forced me to be a little more discriminatory in my choice of new strategies, partly because there are so many apps to sift through, and partly because I have tried to stay true to my pre-lockdown pedagogical principles. The apps that I have found most effective are exactly those that do what I previously did as a teacher, but better. From something as simple as the in-built assignments and praise on Teams, to formative tools such as Polly and Forms, through to apps that I had barely used before such as whiteboard.fi and Nearpod, the aps that we choose need to deliver our subjects as effectively as before, and also have use as we look towards Blended Learning in future. The two common features of the apps I use are that they boost student participation in novel ways, such as digital card sorts, and they facilitate formative assessment in quick-simple, activities, such as online show me boards and rapid-fire quizzes. Stay open-minded to apps, but ensure they do what you need them to do, not simply entertain.

Susanna Boyd writes:

1. Group work really can lead to amazing learning.

I have often shied away from group work in the classroom. It feels like it takes ten times more planning than delivering – choosing the right make-up of the group, creating the resources, thinking about trouble-shooting, laying out the classroom, setting the expectations…the list goes on. With remote learning much of the extraneous organisation is actually removed as students can be put in groups easily, given clear instructions and asked to get on with it – particularly through Channels on Teams as the teacher can drop in and out unexpectedly, something which simply isn’t possible in the classroom. This has proved to be a welcome change for my students from more didactic teaching as they are able to work at their own pace, and to help each other in ‘real time’ rather than depending on the teacher to guide them. This has also proven to be a real asset in research tasks as students can divide up work and depend on each other to make sense of and check their findings.
I will certainly be using online group-work for future projects (particularly research-based projects), as well as remembering the power of group work in more traditional lessons to give students real ownership of their learning.
2. It is crucial to build girls’ confidence to speak out in class.

One real challenge with remote teaching is trying to give students the instant feedback which they would normally receive in class. No longer can I wander between desks, peer over their shoulders or ask them quick and focused questions to check their understanding. There are a number of ways to check learning (Polly and MS Forms are my preferred ones at the moment) but even these can’t replicate the power of students verbalising their understanding. However, there’s a problem – many of my girls simply refuse to either speak or type. A great deal has been written on girls’ dip in confidence as they get older and a fear of failure which leads them to refuse to answer questions for fear of getting things wrong. Even when I have asked for all students to have their microphones on and shout out their answer all together or allowed people to answer on polls or chat, the social anxiety is still high and some girls still refuse to participate.
Going forward, I want to find new ways of growing girls’ confidence to speak out in class and to be unafraid of getting it ‘wrong’. Without the confidence to speak out in a reasonably safe environment, they will not be able to speak out in future in the workplace or society more generally. Further research is certainly needed along the lines of Katty Kay and Claire Shipman’s books The Confidence Code with two editions, one for girls and one for women. Clearly this will be a long-term project.
3. Students need training in ICT from the start.

Just as we’re all teachers of Literacy as we all teach in English, and we’re all meant to be teachers of Numeracy because we all use numbers in some capacity, it also seems that we need to all become teachers of ICT. Early on in my lessons I discovered that many of my students are not fully ICT literate and need training in key vocabulary (e.g. what does ‘upload’ actually mean? What is a ‘tab’?) as well as the ability to develop the flexibility to work multiple devices (e.g. how do I save work on a tablet? On a laptop? On my computer hard-disk rather than my OneDrive?). This is a long-term project and one which we all need to work on together as a school. This is hopefully where the Middle Years’ Programme Approaches to Learning will come in as we have an excellent opportunity for all teachers to teach ICT skills while also developing their subject. It will, however, require careful planning so that we are all ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’ to avoid confusion, and we may all find that we too need ICT training before we can assist our students. This is certainly something which I hope to discuss in our longer-term planning for September.