Research School Network: Distance Learning – a summary In the midst of a national lockdown a summary of our best bets for distance learning

Distance Learning – a summary

In the midst of a national lockdown a summary of our best bets for distance learning

by Durrington Research School
on the

As I write this, the exciting news about a possible vaccine for Covid-19 being just around the corner is still ringing in my ears. However, this news is tempered by the reality of the national lockdown we are currently in, and the wide diversity of experiences facing teachers and children across the country.

While there are reasons for optimism, distance, or remote learning, is a concept that will at least be part of our provision for the rest of this year, and in all likelihood to some extent moving forward. Some of this will be enforced, but some may be choice. There will certainly be aspects of distance learning that we will wish to keep even when we return to business as usual.

In the new year we will be one of several Research Schools leading a short training programme on distance learning, and so to widen the reach, I am summarising some of the main aspects we will be covering in this blog.

1. The impact of school closures on disadvantaged students

The starting point is to recognise the impact our previous national lockdown is likely to have had on our disadvantaged students, as this is provides important lessons for any future distance learning packages we produce. Many of the answers to these problems are difficult to find, but the stark reality is that evidence suggests the early months of the pandemic had a dramatic negative effect on the progress of our students with the greatest need. The EEF has summarised this in a rapid evidence assessment. This assessment examined the existing research for all available estimates of the impact of school closure on the gap between disadvantaged students and others, and resulted in three key findings:

1. School closures are likely to reverse progress made to narrow the gap in the last decade.

This makes very stark reading and is perfectly summarised by Chief Executive of the EEF Becky Francis:

Our analysis – based on a systematic search of literature on school closures – suggests that the gap at the end of primary school could widen by between 11% and 75% between March and September.”

2. Supporting effective remote learning will mitigate the extent to which the gap widens.

3. Sustained support will be needed to help disadvantaged pupils catch up.

With this in mind, any programme of distance learning must start by considering the circumstances of the most disadvantaged student that the provision is intended to reach. Ensuring the provision does everything possible to reach that student effectively will be essential in making sure none are left behind by distance learning packages.

Reflective questions:

  • How successfully did your disadvantaged students engage with distance learning (as compared to non-disadvantaged peers)?
  • What has been your experience of how your disadvantaged students have started the new year?
  • How are you supporting teachers with strategies to close the disadvantaged gap?

2. EEF Rapid Evidence Assessment – Distance Learning

In this second assessment, the EEF examined the existing research from 60 systematic reviews and meta-anlayses for approaches that schools could use for distance learning. These were not carried out during the March to September period but instead look at comparative situations involving distance learning. The five key findings were:

1. Teaching quality is more important than how lessons are delivered.

Essentially, the evidence here is that whether we teach live” (synchronous) or through recorded (asynchronous) lessons is far less important that what we actually deliver. It is instead the quality of the explanation, modelling and feedback that will make the biggest difference.

2. Ensuring access to technology is key, particularly for disadvantaged pupils.

Perhaps an obvious point, but the evidence is the technology is a key limiting factor in the relative success of distance learning. This would be considering issues like whether students are accessing work on a laptop with the relevant applications or a smartphone, and how this may affect their capacity to engage fully with the learning.

3. Peer interactions can provide motivation and improve learning outcomes.

These are clearly more difficult outside of the classroom than inside, however, peer interactions can be as simple as sharing an excellent piece of work produced by one member of the class. Essentially, it is important that students see that they are in it together and are part of a peer group rather than alone.

4. Supporting pupils to work independently can improve learning outcomes.

We know developing metacognitive learners (those who purposefully direct their learning) is a large factor in improving student outcomes. Never though is it more important than in a remote learning setting. Taking the opportunities now to explicitly teach students to effectively plan, monitor and evaluate will pay dividends when or if they switch to distance learning.

5. Different approaches to remote learning suit different types of content and pupils.

The key takeaway here is that a one-size-fits-all approach to distance learning is likely to be less effective than a domain specific approach. Different age groups, and subjects need to exploit the particular pedagogical knowledge specific to that area.

Reflective questions:

  • How can we ensure high quality teaching at a distance?
  • How can we encourage peer interactions?
  • How can we develop our students as self-regulating learners?

3. EEF Guidance Report – Using Digital Technology to Improve Learning

To help support the deliver of distance learning we will also be using the EFF guidance report focused on using digital technology. This report gives four key recommendations for teachers and was written prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. The recommendations are:

1. Consider how technology will improve teaching and learning before introducing it.

Here is the idea that technology should only be used when there is a clear rationale that it will improve learning. To some degree the choice to use technology is out of our hands when it comes to distance learning, however, there is still the central truth that we should consider the merits of any new technology that we employ for improving learning.

2. Technology can be used to improve the quality of explanations and modelling.

This is a consoling thought; that our explanation and modelling can actually benefit from using technology. For example, recording a video of yourself explaining a difficult concept will have the added benefit of students being able to pause and rewind it. In the lesson it would be gone and the students would be forced to move on.

3. Technology offers ways to improve the impact of pupil practice.

Various pieces of software can be used to enhance student practice. For example, if students are working on remembering the core knowledge for a chunk of the curriculum, a Google form using carefully designed multiple choice questions will be a great aid for doing so.

4. Technology can play a role in improving assessment and feedback.

To develop the example above, technology also has many advantages in terms of feedback. Use of technology can give students immediate feedback, with many pieces of software also giving diagnostic feedback dependent on answers.

Reflective questions:

  • Did the technology we chose to use during lockdown improve teaching and learning?
  • Did we exploit the ability of technology to improve explanation and modelling
  • How can we use technology to allow assessment and feedback to take place at a distance?

By using these three key documents together with the wealth of blogs and thinking from the profession over the past few months, we hope to draw together a plan for the best bets when it comes to distance learning.

Chris Runeckles is an assistant headteacher at Durrington High School. He is also an assistant director of Durrington Research School and will be delivering our training on Metacognition and Memory

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