A Blog about puddles on the pitch– what does new research on the impact of the pandemic on learning mean for schools?
A blog by Sadie Thompson, Deputy Director of HISP Research School
by HISP Research School
Last week I needed to self-isolate with my family as my three children developed symptoms and therefore required Covid tests. We missed three days of school, but fortunately the tests came back negative. I knew that I would be able to carry out many tasks from home, and attend meetings remotely, but I would not be able to support my senior leadership colleagues with things like morning, break and lunch duties and being visible around the school. As is the case with all people who work in schools, I immediately felt guilty knowing that the rest of the senior leadership team would be further stretched, and that colleagues would need to cover my lessons. I had started to develop positive routines with my classes and was frustrated that I couldn’t be with them to teach them.
My thoughts turned to what I had learned from lockdown. During this time we as a school taught mostly synchronous lessons using Microsoft TEAMS. This approach suited our context at the time and you can read about my experiences here https://researchschool.org.uk/… and those of several of my colleagues here https://researchschool.org.uk/… . I again feel it important to emphasise the point that this approach was feasible for our context and might not indeed be possible in other contexts where student access to computers and internet at home is limited.
My remote teaching practice developed over time through the reading and use of the EEF Covid support resources for schools https://educationendowmentfoun… . This included a rapid evidence assessment examining the existing research to support the remote learning of pupils https://educationendowmentfoun… .
Having experienced several months of remote teaching, I immediately thought about how I could teach my classes from home using TEAMS, with the students being in the classroom. My initial thoughts were that I would have to rely on the cover supervisor or cover teacher to communicate with me from the classroom using the conversation bar, and that they would have to type in when the class had finished each activity. This would have meant a very limited interaction with the class with me receiving very little information. I thought that it might just be better to create an asynchronous video, with pause points for the students to complete learning tasks. However, after discussing with a colleague, they said that they would set up the visualiser so that I could see and hear the class. This was the turning point that made me think that a live lesson would work and be more beneficial to the students.
My planning involved taking a lot of time thinking about each slide on the PowerPoint, carefully highlighting different texts and images to appear on screen at specific times so that I could build up the ‘story’ gradually, and focus the students’ attention as much as possible on my explanations. I didn’t have access to a visualiser at home, and my Surface Pro pen required new batteries, so everything had to be on the PowerPoint. This meticulous planning took much time, but I didn’t want my lesson just to be a ‘click and talk’. Teaching abstract ideas and focusing on the macroscopic to the microscopic and back meant that my choice of images were essential as I couldn’t draw on the screen. I knew that I was in the middle of teaching a concept that students find difficult to grasp, and indeed develop several misconceptions around. It was therefore important to make explanations as clear and precise as possible. The screenshots below illustrate how I planned for images to gradually build up.
Trying to teach that the lines we draw between atoms when drawing the structural formula of a molecule (e.g H‑H) are actually pairs of electrons would have been easy in the classroom because I would have had my board and a visualiser. This added extra planning time to my PowerPoints that I wouldn’t normally have to do.
The following day I had received batteries for my Surface Pro pen in the post and so didn’t have to spend so much time adapting my PowerPoint slides because I could annotate over them. Again, the use of the classroom visualiser to see and hear this class empowered me and allowed me to gauge the pace of the lesson. Writing on the slides allowed me to model the planning of an investigation like the one in the screenshot below.
Half-way through the lesson I asked the students to draw a sketch graph of their prediction. I wanted to then see what they had predicted so that I could annotate on the screen to show some of their predictions and ask them to elaborate on the relationship between the two variables. I asked the student sat at the front of the class to hold their book up to the visualiser so that I could see it. This allowed me to share the prediction on the screen and to suggest other possibilities.
Obviously, this only involved me getting feedback from one student, but with needing to ensure minimal movement in classrooms, I was limited to asking only students at the front of the class.
Context is indeed everything, and I must indeed stress that this approach worked for me in this instance to address a short term need for me. This approach might not be viable everywhere, but my reflections might be a useful stimulus for schools to think about blended learning approaches when more and more teachers and students are needing to self-isolate. If any of my students were self-isolating at the time they could have accessed the lesson on Teams. Indeed, now I’m back in the classroom, if some students are absent, I could open up the Team so students can see the ‘board’ and can listen to the lesson from their homes.
The benefits were that my classes had a specialist subject teacher ‘in front’ of them and I could continue to teach the syllabus to them. I always find that when I normally set cover lessons, I spend ages trying to plan and communicate the lesson, and then the work that the students produce is not as great as it could me. This then needs follow-up and re-teaching the following lesson. Other benefits include the continuity for the students, and less workload for the colleague covering the lesson as I am carrying out the instruction, assessment, and I am able to clarify and answer any questions. It does however require someone to be able to get to the start of the less, open up Teams, and to photocopy any required resources. Indeed, just today I set up a lesson for a colleague to teach from home this way. It did mean that my own lesson was impacted and was slightly late in starting as I was trying to set the cover lesson up, but if more people were trained then it might be more workable.
My thoughts turn to our next steps as a school and exploring this further as an option for staff if they can and indeed feel comfortable doing this. It would involve some systems to be put into place and good communication between the teacher, head of department and the cover manager. Training would also be required for some staff. At the end of the day we have to weigh up the time and effort spent setting these systems up, with the learning gains of the students, and the workload impact on our staff.
A blog by Sadie Thompson, Deputy Director of HISP Research School
By Caroline Lowing, former Deputy Headteacher, School Improvement Lead and Research School ELE for HISP
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