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Research School Network: Remote learning: what does the evidence tell us? Julian Grenier, Jane Woolley and Fahima Munshi reflect on the evidence and report from the new frontline in education

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Remote learning: what does the evidence tell us?

Julian Grenier, Jane Woolley and Fahima Munshi reflect on the evidence and report from the new frontline in education

by East London Research School
on the

Teachers are all struggling to manage so much during the Covid-19 pandemic, not least moving education online. This problem that isn’t made any easier if, like us, you’ve had no training to do this. That’s why the Education Endowment’s rapid evidence assessment of Remote Learning is both timely and important. Like the best research, it’s leaving is with more questions than answers. But at least we have better questions now. The review looks at five types of Remote Learning:

  1. General remote teaching and learning
  2. Blended learning
  3. Computer-supported collaborative learning
  4. Computer assisted instruction
  5. Educational games It’s clear that we don’t yet have enough high-quality information about any of these. 

Additionally, the information we have dates from normal times’. Children and young people were learning remotely as part of their usual lifestyles. They were going to school, playing sport, seeing friends and family, and so on. They weren’t in the middle countrywide dread and anxiety. Lisle Von Buchenroder, headteacher of Star Primary School, has three insightful images of primary-aged pupils at home. Some are diligently engaged with lots of online learning. They probably have a sound routine most days – regular bedtimes, quiet times for their work, and time to play, have fun, and get some exercise outdoors. 

Others are probably safe at home – they’re playing, maybe getting some exercise outdoors or using YouTube fitness or dance videos. But they aren’t keeping up with their learning. 

The final, most worrying group of children aren’t safe at all. They might be emotionally damaged as their families experience high degrees of stress trying to survive day by day. They might be bereaved, and lack the support they need to grieve. They might be damaged by witnessing domestic violence, or other forms of abuse. 

Our children and young people are in a completely novel situation. Of course it’s never been investigated.All the same, the Rapid Evidence Review tells us lots of useful things. It acknowledges that children from disadvantaged backgrounds are likely to face the most barriers. They may have little or no access to ICT at home. Living conditions may be crowded and noisy. Generally, these dimensions have not been explored by research into Remote Learning. We all need to boot-strap our own action-research here to develop Remote Learning that has a chance of working for all children. So, here are five key findings and implications:

  1. Teaching quality is more important than how lessons are delivered
  2. Ensuring access to technology is key, particularly for disadvantaged pupils
  3. Peer interactions can provide motivation and improve learning outcomes
  4. Supporting pupils to work independently can improve learning outcomes
  5. Different approaches to remote learning suit different tasks and types of content.

The report itself is brief. It’s much better that you head straight over there, than we make a mess of trying to summarise a summary. 

You might also enjoy this brief video introducing the report from Charles Dickens Research School.

In short, many of the findings from the review link to things we already know in schools. We shouldn’t be fixating on the surface attributes of teaching and learning. Instead, let’s think about deeper qualities. How we order curriculum content coherent. How we build on children’s motivation, and help them to reflect on their learning. How we match pedagogy to task and content. How’s it working out in practice? 

East London Research School is a collaboration across three phases of education, led by Sheringham Nursery School with the EKO Trust Primary Schools and Little Ilford Secondary School. We’ve got some brief reflections to share about remote learning from all three teams.

Early Years


At Sheringham Nursery School, one of the first things we realised is that sending regular, short messages (e.g. on WhatsApp) works much better than emailing out longer documents or posting daily or weekly plans’ for learning at home. Time is often too short for parents to take a long document on board, think it through, and then turn it into a play experience for their child.

We have particularly used an App called EasyPeasy for this. EasyPeasy sends out regular, short videos with ideas for learning through play. The videos clearly model what the parent might do, and they don’t need lots of hard-to-find resources. An evaluation of EasyPeasy by the Sutton Trust found benefits for children’s cognitive self-regulation and parents’ sense of control. The report notes that these results suggest a positive effect of EasyPeasy on children’s cognitive self-regulation, as reported by their parents.’

We’ve also drawn on the Department for Education’s Hungry Little Minds campaign, which suggests activities and apps for children in the early years.

We contact parents a few times a day using WhatsApp and we also share our own short videos of songs, book readings, and play-based activities.

Our approach has been shaped by the EEF guidance report, Working with Parents to Support Children’s Learning (2019), and the accompanying evidence review.

Primary


Jane Woolley from Earlham Primary School highlights that their remote learning is driven by three key principles:

Firstly, learning for this age group is about relationships, whether we are in the classroom or at home. Teachers film a daily video for children (as well as filming lessons), and feedback from families tells us this is the most important part of their learning day.

Secondly, given the number of families where English is not spoken at home, and the very high proportion of children accessing home learning on mobile phones, we recognised the need for easy access and one click navigation, so children can access the learning with minimal adult intervention. Our online school is on the school website, and everything the child needs to access is only one click away each day – no log-ons and no passwords.

Thirdly, many parents were concerned about their ability to support their children’s learning, so the video lessons from teachers include lots of modelling, demonstration and ideas for hands-on activities to do at home, both indoors and outside. We encourage pupils to send in photos and videos of their work which we share on the website.

What have we learnt?

Three things: as long as we maintain the relationships we can maintain the learning; our teachers and pupils are great vloggers; we all need better broadband!

Secondary


Fahima Munshi comments that Little Ilford School initially centralised all work and posted it on the school website in 3 week blocks. The majority of the tasks relied on students heavily using Google Classroom, the internet and devices. We very quickly realised that this was not feasible for many students who do not have access to electronic devices, the internet or may share devices with siblings.

To promote the wellbeing of both students and parents, we immediately adapted the tasks for a menu’ option where students now have a choice of tasks in each subject which results in the same outcome – but does not require heavily on technology and a reduction in screen time.To also create an opportunity for students to undertake a creative activity and have a little fun (aside from their academic work), students can now take part in the monthly Headteacher Challenge’ published on the school website. The theme for this month is My view’ and students can win £25 vouchers. Winning entries will also be published on our school website so keep your eyes peeled!

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